MEDFORD, New Jersey — Members of Fellowship Alliance Chapel were gathering to mourn Christina Grimmie when they were learning of 49 more people shot to death by another madman in Orlando, Florida.
Grimmie, 22, was shot Friday night in Orlando while signing autographs after a concert. Kevin James Loibl, 27, fired at Grimmie before he was tackled by her brother Marcus. Loibl killed himself. Grimmie, a budding vocal star and a popular contestant on NBC’s The Voice, was rushed to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
“We as a family, we mourn. We mourn Orlando this morning, which is going through a lot today, again,” said elder Bryan Russell, as congregants took their seats for the 11 a.m. service in the church Grimmie attended for most of her life. “It’s hard and it hurts and it seems senseless. Right now is a time for us to be able to grieve and ask questions.”
Two hours earlier, Pastor Marty Berglund began the early service with a video tribute to Grimmie. Two large screens above the church sanctuary played a YouTube video of Grimmie belting out the song “In Christ Alone.” (The video has been watched more than 2 million times.)
The song’s lyrics—which speak of the power of faith to conquer death—moved many of the congregants to tears.
“When something happens like Christina Grimmie getting shot by a murderer, we have to remember that we are part of an unshakeable kingdom that Christina sang about… this is the faith Christina Grimmie had,” Berglund said as ushers passed boxes of tissues around.
A church greeter, Ed Letts, said he hopes some good might come of the tragedy.
“We are people of faith, so as we see it, Christina now stands with Christ,” he said. “Knowing that in our hearts brings peace, and maybe through her videos she can now get that message out.”
After his sermon, Pastor Berglund sat down with The Daily Beast to describe the profound impact Grimmie’s death has had on the church community and her family.
“We were all shaken,” he said. “She’d been coming here since she was a little kid and sang with the worship team. Then her YouTube videos started getting popular. We watched her star grow.”
Berglund said he had been in touch with Grimmie’s parents, and there has been talk of arranging a funeral service at Fellowship Alliance Chapel.
Grimmie was a devout Christian, and her music had a spiritual core even as she embraced her role as a budding pop icon. Her simply recorded home videos, which feature Grimmie behind an electric piano singing covers of popular songs, earned her critical acclaim and the nickname “Queen of YouTube.” Grimmie released her self-produced debut EP, Find Me, in 2011.
Grimmie worshiped regularly at Fellowship Alliance Chapel with her family until moving to California in 2012 to join Selena Gomez on tour. The purpose of the tour was to raise money for what would be her first and only studio album, 2013’s With Love.
Berglund recalls counseling Grimmie and her parents, Bud and Tina, before the move.
“They were afraid to go, they were afraid of the industry, of all the Hollywood stuff, afraid of being swallowed up by the industry,” he said.
In 2014 Grimmie placed third on The Voice and earned a brief recording deal with Island Records. But those who know her say that throughout her short rise to fame she was vigilant about staying connected to her roots.
“Christina had a tattoo on her forearm. It said ‘All Is Vanity’ from the book of Ecclesiastes,” explained elder Bryan Russell. “So every time she performed she could see those words. She never wanted to forget who she was working for and who she represented.”
Police believe Grimmie’s killer, who was armed with two handguns, went to her concert with the intention of shooting her. But they said they have no evidence that he had been stalking her. No motive for the killing has yet been revealed.
Chelsea Tabisz, who now holds Grimmie’s old spot as female lead in the church’s worship team band, said that while she only met Grimmie once, the young star made an impression on her.
“She was really authentic and genuine, and was just so talented,” she said, fighting back tears.
Tabisz served in the Air Force and won the 2015 Operation Rising Star contest, an American Idol-style singing competition that was hosted annually by the military for a decade until this year.
Tabisz says Grimmie’s death has had a chilling effect.
“I never once thought that by performing I could be putting myself in danger, it never crossed my mind,” she told The Daily Beast. “Now I’m worried. I mean, [Christina] was so young and was just getting started. It’s such a tragedy.”