At Sunday Mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, Pastor Joe Connolly always blesses the children gathered near the altar.
It's moving to watch the procession of innocents.
Four-year-old Davien Martinez was usually among them.
The same Davien Martinez who is recovering in All Children's Hospital after being shot in the head by a stray bullet following an exchange of gunfire between two vehicles near the boy's home off 26th Street West.
That was July 27.
Such a senseless act of violence is heartbreaking, especially on a child.
Yet little did we know.
It would be the first salvo of a series of outrageous shootings over nine days that have rocked our community.
The list is a frightening refrain:
On Aug. 1, two masked assailants shot and killed Brenton Coleman Sr., who was holding his 5-year-old. The gunmen brazenly executed the man despite the presence of hundreds of children and parents at the end of a Manatee Mustangs practice on the 13th AV Dream Center's football complex.
Three days later, two groups exchanged gunfire in the parking lot of a convenience store on 14th Street West.
Only hours later in Palmetto, a gunman in a car fired several shots at a man with his baby outside their home.
The next day, four shooters sprayed a home a few blocks from the Dream Center with high-powered rifles from the bed of a pickup truck in a drive-by, but no one was injured.
So far, none of the gunmen in these violent crimes has been apprehended, although the arrests of Brenton Coleman Sr.'s son and brother early last Wednesday may provide a crucial link for law enforcement.
After a traffic stop by Bradenton police, the pair -- Brenton Coleman Jr. and Gerrell Houston -- were reportedly found to have several loaded weapons in the stolen vehicle.
A third person, the driver, fled.
Fellows just out for a joy ride?
Brenton Coleman Sr.'s funeral was Saturday and law enforcement had a presence as the slain man's family and friends seek closure.
Will there be more gun-related violence down the road?
What's past is prologue.
This has become a street war and its participants have scores to settle.
Will members of the community have the courage to step forward and help end this madness?
Meanwhile, Davien Martinez faces surgery Wednesday.
The resilient littleboy continues to progress, despite notknowing whether hewill lose the sight in one eye.
He's talking and even sang the alphabet to his neurosurgeon.
There will be a collection for him during all this weekend's masses at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.
Davien will need allthe help he can get from his fellow parishioners.
Heaven's help, too.
Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.