Since this was the worst church shooting in U.S. history, and
the most recent, we
are covering it in greater detail. 3
What happened at the church: On 1999-SEP-15, Larry Gene Ashbrook, walked
into the Wedgwood Baptist Church in southwest Fort Worth TX. An evening youth rally and
concert was in progress. It was intended to be
a follow-up event for students who had taken part in the See You at the Pole
school prayer event that morning. About 150 young people from throughout the Fort
Worth area were in attendance. A Christian rock group was playing.
Ashbrook was carrying two guns. He opened fire with one, killing 6 and wounding
8 persons. He then set off a pipe bomb. Some media accounts state that the
bottom fell off the bomb and it did not detonate. Actually, the pipe did
explode, but the shrapnel landed harmlessly in the balcony. Hearing the approaching police sirens,
he sat down in a pew and killed himself. One of the wounded
victims, a teenager, later died in hospital. The victims were: Kristi
Beckel, 14; Shawn Brown, 23; Sydney Browning, 36; Joseph Ennis, 14; Cassandra
Griffin, 14; Susan 'Kim' Jones, 23; and Justin Ray, 17. 4
Justin Laird was one of the wounded; he was permanently paralyzed below the waist by the
Witnesses have stated that the shooter was
angrily spouting anti-Baptist rhetoric during the rampage.
What motivated the killer? Numerous reasons have been given for the
Mental Illness: Ashbrook's brother
revealed that the perpetrator suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Longtime neighbors
allegedly said that the death of King's
mother nine years earlier caused him to behave strangely. One said
that he "went mental;" another said that "He
just didn't seem right in the head." He may well have
experienced a similar mental breakdown after his father's death in
Al Meredith, the pastor of Wedgewood church has repeatedly said
that: "We must forgive. I hold no rancor in my heart for the
family of Larry Ashbrook. The poor man was deranged. His mind has been
twisted by heaven knows what." On 2000-JAN-31, during a Texas
Baptist conference he commented: "[T]here are consequences
when Christians do not reach out to people whom others have rejected."
Inter-denomination hatred: "Police found both religious and anti-religious literature in his home."
5On SEP-16, the
Houston Chronicle reported that Ashbrook was an adherent of the Phineas
Priesthood, a small, violent U.S. Christian
Identity group that advocates killing Jews and other
minorities. According to Baptist Press:
"That organization was outraged at Southern Baptists for
their efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. At the time of the church
shooting, Baptist churches in Fort Worth, were openly praying for Jewish
conversions [to Christianity] during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana [sic] and Yom Kippur."
"Ashbrook's words are
recorded both on videotape and in the minds of every person in the
room that horrible night. The tapes have since been destroyed, upon
agreement between the church and the police department, but multiple
witnesses said they heard Ashbrook say, 'I can't believe you believe
this junk' and heard him shouting anti-Baptist rhetoric and cursing
It appears that Ashbrook was specifically targeting
Baptists, rather than Evangelical Christians, Christians generally, or people of
Intervention by Satan: Al Meredith,
pastor of Wedgwood, commented "I don't want the kingdom of darkness to
prevail over the kingdom of light." 2Being a
conservative Christian, he probably believes that Satan is a all-evil living
entity who spreads chaos over the entire community. The mass-murder
at his church was simply one more destructive activity by Satan.
Lack of Faith: Church member Chip Gillette, a police
officer, said "We live in a nation who has said there is no God,
and has denied Him and rejected Him, and we are reaping the whirlwind for
our denial and our lack of prayerfulness and our lack of commitment to the
one true God." 2 Gillette's comments can be
interpreted in at least two ways:
The loss of life was God's retribution on America because of the the rise of
Agnosticism, Atheism and
lack of Christians' commitment to God. It is unclear why God would allow
the tragedy to occur at a Baptist church. Its membership presumably
already worship God, pray to him frequently, and are strongly committed
to living a Christian life.
Belief, commitment, and prayer to the Christian God will work as a
positive spiritual force that will prevent such tragedies. Again the
reasoning for this is unclear, because one would expect the tragedy to
have occurred to a non-Christian congregation who worshiped a
different God and thus would have had no protection.
What happened after the tragedy?
On the following Sunday, a local United Methodist Church sent 15 adults to
Wedgwood to handle childcare, so that all of the Baptist church members could attend
Members of a church in Tulsa, OK, drove over five hours on that Sunday, so that they
could march around the Wedgwood church and pray.
In the three weeks following the tragedy, the church received over 13,000
Emails, 20,000 cards and letters and $100,000 in donations.
There have been literally hundreds of religious conversions as a result of the
President Clinton spoke personally with Al Meredith and sent a letter of
condolence. He mentioned the tragedy in a speech during the fall of 1999. An FBI
team from Dallas went to Fort Worth to help gather evidence. The FBI's Dallas
office, the FBI headquarters and the Department of Justice jointly decided that
the prime cause for the killings was the mass murderer's mental condition. Thus,
they did not classify the murders as a hate crime. According to Baptist Press:
"Robert Garrity, FBI special agent in charge, said, '[T]his has the
appearance of being a very troubled man who ... sought to quiet whatever demons
that bothered him. I think he was just somebody who was a social outcast. We
found evidence that he was a very emotionally disturbed person'." FBI
special agent Lori Bailey at the Dallas office, when asked whether the Bureau
considered calling the tragedy a hate crime said: "It was a strong
consideration, but it was not the appropriate route to go...[the killer's]
statements would not cause us to investigate it as a civil rights matter."
One man shot another man, causing his death and minor injuries to seven other
people who were hurt trying to flee the building. Apparently the alleged
murderer and his victim had had a long standing dispute. The Rev. Anton Kqira
said that the incident was "the result of a dispute between individuals."
Most of theapproximately 1,000 parishioners in the church ran for the
exits. More than ten were injured in the rush.