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'Your tomorrow can be better' | Knoxville faith leaders inspire healing with Sunday sermons

Congregations across Knoxville came together on Sunday to pray. Five current or recent Austin-East students have now died after being shot in the past three months.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On Sunday, songs and sermons filled the air inside Payne Avenue Missionary Baptist Church. Yet again, the East Knoxville community is mourning the loss of another Austin-East student.

"Here we are struggling to navigate the pitiful, painful and problematic darkness all around us," Rev. Richard Brown said. "It is at times like these that we are made aware of our own limitations."

Just six days earlier, the Tennessee Burau of Investigation said 17-year-old Anthony Thompson Jr. had a handgun when officers located him in a school restroom around 3:15 p.m.

Investigators said a struggle broke out and Thompson's gun fired first. We do not know how Thompson's gun was fire—whether the teenager pulled the trigger or if it was an accidental discharge during the struggle. 

The TBI said officers returned fire with two shots. Thompson was hit by gunfire and later pronounced dead.

Credit: WBIR

RELATED: Gone too soon: Monday's shooting just the latest incident as school, community confront violence

"Father, we feel helpless sometimes here with children dying, one after another," Rev. Daryl Arnold told his congregation at Overcoming Believers Church on Sunday. "You cannot have our children. They're our next generation."

Those powerful words are intended to help the community heal as they search for more answers.

Credit: WBIR

"All we can do at best is to attempt to encourage ourselves to keep going on," Rev. Brown said. "Your tomorrow can be better than your right now and more exciting than your yesterday."

Faith leaders want to see an end to the violence in Knoxville and beyond.

"Stop the bullets now. Stop the hatred now," Rev. Arnold said. "Stop the madness now. Stop the killings now."