Laura MacDonald was afraid to go to church.
Just four days earlier on September 15, MacDonald was attending a youth rally with her teenage daughter at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth when Larry Gene Ash brook entered the sanctuary with a 9-mm handgun and a suicidal mission.
In a scene eerily reminiscent of the Jonesboro, Paducah, and Littleton tragedies, Ashbrook, 47, stormed the church, cursing God and spewing anti-Baptist rhetoric. He proceeded to gun down seven teenagers and adults and injure seven others before shooting himself in the head. MacDonald's daughter escaped unharmed. Despite the horror of that Wednesday night, MacDonald decided to return to the church on Sunday. "I felt God's presence," she says. "This is God's house. It's not an evil house. It's his house. He's reclaimed it."
Although Christians were singled out in the Columbine high school shooting in April (CT, Oct. 4, 1999, p. 32), the Wedgwood Baptist shooting marks the first time in recent history that Christian teens have been targeted in their own church.
Blood-stained carpets and pews were removed for Sun day services, and bullet holes were covered with flowers.
In a statement on the church's Web site, senior pastor Al Meredith acknowledges that it was not an easy decision to interrupt grieving for Sunday worship. "However, we believe it is important that we not allow the kingdom of darkness to hinder what God wants to accomplish in his people," he says.
In an opening prayer, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Ken Hemphill asked God to "use these martyrs to save a generation of people." Seven people made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ during the service.
Among the dead were two current students of the nearby seminary—Shawn C. Brown, 23, and Susan Kimberly Jones, 23—and one alumnus, Sydney R. Browning, 36. Two other seminary students were wounded. Others who were killed in the attack include Kristi Beckel, 14; Joseph D. Ennis, 14; Cassandra Griffin, 14; and Justin M. Ray, 17.
Christian leaders are questioning whether the shooting is a sign of increasing anti-Christian sentiment. "I believe there is a growing climate of hostility that is directed against Christians," says William Merrell, spokes person for the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee, in the Washington Times.
C. Welton Gaddy, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, disagrees. Instead, he blames "a high level of anger, frustration, and mental illness among people in our society who have a ready accessibility to weapons."
Others are pointing to the proliferation of sin in society. "I think we're reaping what we've been sowing," R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, told Larry King on CNN. "Ideas have consequences, and I think what we have let loose in this country is now coming back in the form of a violence that, quite frankly, is unbelievable.
"We can put metal detectors in every doorway, but the bottom line is there is evil in the hearts of human beings," Mohler says.
Many of the youth at the September 15 rally had participated in See You at the Pole events earlier in the day by making a public profession of faith and praying around their schools' flagpoles.
Copyright © 1999 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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