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Vigil planned for Bay City shooting victims

by Larry Seward / KHOU 11 News

Posted on December 2, 2011 at 6:16 PM

Updated Friday, Dec 2 at 6:21 PM

BAY CITY, Texas – Two days after police say a Bay City father shot his wife and killed his four kids, the tight-knit community of 18,000 was still in shock.

"If I sneeze, somebody on the other side of town is going to know about it," Johnathan Dobbs, youth minister at the Nichols Street Church of Christ in Bay City, said.

So when someone fatally shoots four children, tries to kill their mother and then takes his own life, everyone knows about it.

Immediately after it happened, neighbors and friends started dropping off candles, balloons and stuffed animals outside the trailer where Jose Avila, his wife Laura Gonzales and their four young children lived.

"I just don’t understand why he would do that, especially to the kids," friend Zeke Martinez said.

"This is so devastating," Dobbs said.

Police said the couple had been having marital problems, and Avila had recently lost his job. But on November 30, something went terribly wrong during a fight between the parents.

Investigators said Avila shot Gonzales three times, then shot each of his children in the head before turning the gun on himself. He died at the scene.

The rest of his family was rushed to Matagorda Regional Hospital, where Gonzales underwent surgery. The children were airlifted from there to hospitals in Houston, where they all died on Thursday. Gonzales was also airlifted to a Houston hospital Thursday, where she remained Friday in critical condition.

Immediately after the shootings, community members jumped into action, starting up a fund to pay for funerals just after the tragedy.

But the Bay City mayor said he saw a greater need, so he asked Dobbs and others to organize a community gathering where people could come grieve together.

"I didn’t know the family, but it has deeply affected me. There are thousands of people in this community who feel the same way," Dobbs said.

Dobbs said there will be a candlelight vigil for the family outside the Bay City Courthouse at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, December 7. It will be a three-hour program, and all residents are encouraged to attend.

The memorial fund was set up at Wells Fargo under the name Bay City Tragedy Benefit. Anyone who would like to donate can make contributions to account No. 94119446972.