Cries of joy and faith replaced those of anguish and pain Sunday as members of the Second Haitian Baptist Church gathered for a Thank God service a week after a car plowed into their small, brick house of worship and injured 21.
On a bright and nearly cloudless day, about 100 church members, friends, family members and others returned to the Central Avenue site that was the scene of chaos and confusion on Easter Sunday.
"This is not about the physical part of the building," said the Rev. Israel Suarez, founder and CEO of The Nations Association Charities in Fort Myers. "But there are 21 people who were affected by this. These people were not able to go to work. They may have problems paying their rent. They will have some economic problems."
Suarez, who has been helping the small Haitian church organize and recover from last week's tragedy, made a plea to the area for help.
"I make a call out to the city of Fort Myers and our Lee County people. Please give us a donation," he said during the spirited service in the parking lot of the still damaged church.
It was late on Easter Sunday when a 2006 Lexus LS4320 barreled into the main worship area of the church just as a special holiday concert was about to start.
The car, driven by Marie Masson, 31, of Fort Myers, careened completely into the middle of the church, tumbling heavy wooden pews akimbo and coming to rest atop church members.
Other church members helped lift the car off the injured while some got jacks to keep the car lifted. Twenty-one inside the church were hurt, many with minor injuries, although a number had broken bones and needed stitches to close wounds.
Masson was attending a church convention in Miami on Sunday and was not able to comment. Her boyfriend, Asker Joram, of Fort Myers, said Masson remains upset about the accident and has injuries of her own.
"She's in a lot of pain," he said. "She's crying. I told her it could have happened to anyone. I had just put gas in the car before she left."
With two church members remaining in area hospitals Sunday, Second Haitian Pastor Desamours Leontes said the service showed that they are not alone in their suffering.
"Thank God everyone is OK. The building will be fixed," he said.
The pastor said that if repairs can't be made in time for next Sunday, the church will accept an offer from the Harvey-Englehardt Funeral Home on Colonial Boulevard to use its chapel.
Rachel Schad, funeral director at Harvey-Englehardt, said the offer was made out of respect and need.
"It was just as simple as seeing it and being amazed that no one was killed," she said. "We're supposed to take care of people in their time of need."
Schad said the energy from the Thank God service was remarkable and affirming. "It was hard not to be emotional," she said.
The service, spoken in Creole and Spanish with an English interpreter, drew emotional outbursts, applause, shouts and praise from church members and visitors alike.
Fort Myers Mayor Randall Henderson spoke briefly, citing the need to help those affected by the crash.
"We don't know why this happened," he said. "Our creator put us on this Earth to come to the rescue of those who were injured."
Henderson also lauded the funeral home's offer and the assistance of Suarez.
"As mayor I see examples of this across the city, the area and the nation. When we have these times of crisis I see the same leadership show up," he said., "Every mayor in the world wants to see this kind of love and compassion."
The assistance of the Fort Myers Police Department was also noted, with the Rev. Joseph Gabriel of the Full Gospel Assembly of Fort Myers, and his wife and co-pastor, Natasha, pointing out how officers helped during the Easter tragedy.
Fort Myers Officer Yvan Planchar, a Haitian native, said the local Haitian community and the department have a lot of back and forth communication. "It's not a taboo to see us among them," he said.
Some of the injured attended Sunday, nursing wounds but glad to see the support.
"This was wonderful. I'm so happy," said Michelot Joseph, 44, who was bowled over by the car as it crashed into the church and suffered cuts, bruises, sore bones and stitches.
"I never expected the crowd and the words," he said. "Nothing could have stopped me coming here. This is my best place."
And, as a reminder for what could have been an even greater tragedy last week, a church member Sunday spray-painted a simple prayer on the plywood that covered the floor-to-ceiling hole caused by the car: "We thank Lord; We give you all the Glory. Keep your eyes always on us!"