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Are Christians being targeted?

Killings in U.S. churches 1999-SEP to 2003

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Killings in or at American churches 1999 & 2003:

Date Church Location Toll Motivation/cause
1999-SEP-15  Wedgwood Baptist 1,2 Ft. Worth TX 7 killed;
7 injured
Mental illness?
2003-MAR-30 St.Paul's Albanian Catholic Church Rochester Hills, MI 1 killed;
7 injured
Dispute between two former friends

1999-SEP: church killing in Ft. Worth, TX:

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 public 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 killer. 

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 tragedy: 

  • 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 1999-JUL. 3

    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." 3

  • Inter-denomination hatred: "Police found both religious and anti-religious literature in his home." 5 On 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." 1  
    "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 God." 3

    It appears that Ashbrook was specifically targeting Baptists, rather than Evangelical Christians, Christians generally, or people of all faiths.
  • Intervention by Satan: Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood, commented "I don't want the kingdom of darkness to prevail over the kingdom of light." 2 Being 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 the service.
  • 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 killing.

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."

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2003-MAR: church killing in Rochester Hills, MI:

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 the approximately 1,000 parishioners in the church ran for the exits. More than ten were injured in the rush. 6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Fort Worth gunman called 'Paranoid Schizophrenic'," Baptist Press, 1999-SEP-19. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3421b.htm 
  2. Lara McGovern, "Ft. Worth Church Shooting," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/fnif/news/a0007837.html
  3. "Politicians don't count Wedgwood shooting as hate crime," Baptist Press, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00b/20000907b.htm 
  4. "List of victims of Fort Worth shooting," Associated Press, 1999-SEP-16. See: http://www.austin360.com/news/2state/
  5. "Eight dead in Texas church shooting -- the latest eruption of social tensions in America," 1999-SEP-17, at: http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/sep1999/tex-s17_prn.shtml
  6. Santina, "Church," at: http://www.cvs.k12.mi.us/

Site navigation: Home page > Religious conflicts  here

Home page > Christianity > Christian history, beliefs... > Violence > here

Copyright © 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally posted: 1999-SEP-28 
Latest update: 2008-JUL-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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