'Painful still': Grace Baptist stabbing survivor remembers victims, church plans anniversary events

Two people died and 3 others were injured in a stabbing inside the Downtown San Jose church one year ago.

Amanda del Castillo Image
Saturday, November 20, 2021
'Painful': Grace Baptist stabbing survivor remembers victims
Grace Baptist Church in Downtown San Jose is remembering victims of a stabbing in their church one year later.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Grace Baptist Church in Downtown San Jose is nearing one year since a homeless man fatally stabbed two people and injured three others. Ahead of the somber anniversary, the congregation is getting ready to celebrate the lives of the victims.

The Liberty Theatre Pipe Organ at Grace Baptist Church filled the sanctuary ahead of a special Friday night vigil.

In the foyer, dozens of pictures of transgender people who have been killed.

Among the faces is Kimberly Fial, one of two people who died after last year's stabbing spree at Grace Baptist.

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"It is painful still," stabbing survivor, James Chelley told ABC7 News.

For Chelley, that pain is both emotional and physical.

On November 22, 2020, Chelley was working as a shelter employee for Grace Solutions when he was stabbed three times. He said his lung collapsed and he needed surgery on his shoulders and spine.

On Friday, Chelley took us through the hall where it all happened. Pointing ahead, he told us, "Down this hall, there were footsteps of blood."

Since the stabbing, the church brought on a new senior pastor. Reverend George Oliver said Grace Baptist has rededicated itself toward fighting for justice for the unhoused, for trans rights and for people of color.

"Since then, we've been able to turn back to life again," Rev. Oliver shared. "To try our best to grow our church and to be a presence."

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He said growth has been difficult to gauge because of the pandemic, especially considering a majority of congregants were senior citizens.

"Many of them still have been reluctant to return to in-person," Rev. Oliver told ABC7 News. "But when we look at our online and in-person worship services, we've seen some 70% increases in attendance."

On Saturday, the church will partner with Silicon Valley Pride and the community for a Transgender Day of Remembrance service from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Then at 7:30 p.m., there is a planned concert in the sanctuary, led by musician Ron Beck.

"We mourn and mark both of their lives because they were precious souls to this congregation and to this community," the reverend said about victims Kimberly Fial and John Paulson. "And we have never been the same since their parting."

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For survivor Chelley, he hasn't been back to work yet because of the physical pain.

"From the injury, I've been to the ER probably four or five different times. I have blood clots in my neck. Like I said, my lung collapsed, so I'm still suffering from issues with that," Chelley told ABC7 News. "Corona hit me very hard- that had me out for about two months."

"And then, just seven days ago, my father passed away," he added.

Rev. Oliver told ABC7 News, "People like James remind us that life is a process of picking the pieces back up intentionally. And James has done that with courage and conviction, and has been a light for our entire congregation."

"Reminding us that we can't be satisfied with something like sympathy," the reverend added. "We have to move greater towards empathy."

Both events on Saturday are free and open to the public.

"We can't say that we are a faithful people, a joyous people, an overcoming people if we give in to cynicism and doubt," Rev. Oliver shared. "And so, that's what we choose not to do. We choose to give in to hope and to love without apology."

Chelley shared this link to a GoFundMe campaign to assist with medical bills.