Parishioners at a California church where NBA legend Kobe Bryant worshiped Sunday morning two hours before he perished in a fiery helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others in Calabasas, California, were so “stunned” when they got news of his death they could only respond initially with “silence.”
Julie Hermes, a spokeswoman for Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach told the Daily Mail that Bryant worshiped there on Sunday morning before his tragic end. On Sunday, she said, Bryant slipped in at the back of the service as usual and left early to avoid disturbing the other parishioners.
“He attended the 7 a.m. mass prior to going to the Orange County John Wayne Airport,” Hermes told the publication.
“I imagine he went straight to the airport, because the mass was 7 to 8 a.m. I’m told generally 7 a.m. was his mass. He was very discreet. He would come in and stay at the back, and his family too, and then he would usually leave a little earlier prior to the very end of the service,” she continued. “He was very much loved at the church, and he was very devout, very dedicated to his faith.”
A call for a downed helicopter and brush fire in Calabasas went out at 9:47 a.m. local time on Sunday, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said.
Hermes said that when parishioners at the church heard about Bryant’s death they were in shock. She said she attended the first mass at the church in the aftermath of the tragedy and it was difficult.
“I went to the 12 p.m. mass that was dedicated to him. Every mass since has been dedicated to Kobe and the families of all the victims,” Hermes said.
“Everybody was stunned. It was like silence. Everybody was in shock. It was very still. When the 12 p.m. mass ended, because that was the first mass after anybody knew, everybody walked out in silence and were glued to their cell phones looking up any information they could get online,” she continued.
“Our parishioners knew him not just from church but from the community, because Kobe was a great part of this community. That’s how I know him too. I live very close to him in Newport Coast. He was a like regular guy, you wouldn’t know he was a celebrity. He would go out on his own without bodyguards,” she explained.
The Most Rev. Timothy Freyer, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in California, also remembered Bryant as a “committed Catholic” on Monday.
“Our hearts remain heavy after the tragic loss suffered in the wake of yesterday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas. We pray and mourn for the friends and family of the victims who have been publicly identified in news reports: Basketball icon Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli and his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa. Basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan,” Freyer wrote in a statement on Facebook Monday about the tragedy that took the life of the 41-year-old star who he confirmed was a parishioner in the diocese.
“Kobe was an icon who inspired us through his words and actions to set our goals, work hard and achieve our dreams. He was a committed Catholic who loved his family and loved his faith. A longtime Orange County resident and parishioner in our diocese,” Freyer continued.
He also noted how Bryant would always ensure that his presence in church would not create a distraction for other worshipers.
“Kobe would frequently attend mass and sit in the back of the church so that his presence would not distract people from focusing on Christ’s Presence. Please join me in praying for the victims. May God grant their loved ones peace and bring them comfort during these difficult times,” he ended.
Fellow basketball icon, Lebron James, who passed Bryant, his friend and mentor, on the NBA's all-time scoring list Saturday night in Philadelphia, where Bryant went to Lower Merion High School, also publicly broke his silence on the tragedy late Monday night in a post on Instagram.
“I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!!” James wrote.
“I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!!