COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–Family and friends of the Colorado shooting victims gathered at Youth With a Mission and at New Life Church Dec. 12 to remember the lives of those they lost and to emphasize forgiveness toward the gunman’s family.
Meanwhile, a member of New Life who recently wrote a book called “Kids in Crisis” for B&H Publishing Group offered some advice about how Christian parents can help prevent a similar tragedy at the hands of their own rebellious children.
“We will not be governed by fear,” Brady Boyd, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, where Matthew Murray killed two teenage sisters and wounded three others Dec. 9, said to an overflow crowd at the church Wednesday night. “We are people of faith. Faith brings hope. Faith brings peace.”
The sisters, Stephanie and Rachel Works, had made their faith known during their short lives, Boyd said.
“They were not just casual followers of Christ. They were devoted followers of Christ, and while we suffer their loss, I can tell you this: They are in heaven tonight,” he said.
Boyd also urged the congregation to set aside the negative emotions that followed the hapless violence and to reach out to Ronald and Loretta Murray, the gunman’s parents.
“There is a family in Denver also burying a son,” Boyd told church members, referring to the Murrays, whose son killed himself after the shooting spree. “No matter what happens, the loss of a child is the loss of a child.”
Ross Wright, the Kids in Crisis author and executive director of a foster and adoption agency called Hope and Home, attended the service Wednesday night at New Life.
“It was a combination of sadness and celebration,” Ross said. “The sadness was obviously for the fallen church members, and the celebration was one for Christ and recognizing that through Him there’s everlasting life and victory over death and even over the ugliest situation.”
There’s a tendency, Ross said, to think Christmas is supposed to be a happy time with no room for the mourning that accompanies the sudden loss of life.
“If you go back in time 2,000 years ago, it was a pretty sad time then too when Christ came. So Christ doesn’t always come during a time of celebration. He also comes during sad times,” Ross said.
The main message at the New Life service, Ross said, was that through Christ believers will survive and the church is not defeated.
“It was an interesting place to be because New Life is a very celebratory church and it has a lot of praise and worship,” he said. “The New Life core was there and very engaged in the worship side of things, and when the band played there was a lot of evangelical celebration.
“You could see the two main sections of law enforcement and political people sitting, looking almost a little confused and out of place, not understanding the celebratory nature of a church even during sadness,” Ross added.
Earlier in the day, a similar tone prevailed at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, which is near the Youth With a Mission dormitory where two staff members were killed and two were wounded.
Some considered it ironic that one of the victims, 24-year-old Philip Crouse, a few years ago could have been the one responsible for a tragic shooting.
“He would come to youth group in a black trench coat,” childhood friend Shiloh Ryan-Anikienko told The Denver Post. “He really embraced being the Goth scary guy.”
Crouse’s uncle, John Steiner, gave a similar description.
“He was dark and brooding, hiding his insecurities behind a perpetual snarl,” Steiner said, according to The Post. But when Crouse “laid down his life for God, the transformation was as complete as it was remarkable.”
After the service in Arvada, The Post reported that the Murrays met separately with the Crouse family and the family of Tiffany Johnson, the hospitality coordinator at YWAM who also was killed.
“The two families prayed together and wept together,” Casey Nikoloric, a Murray family spokesperson, said. “The Crouse and Johnson families offered the Murrays their love and Matthew Murray their forgiveness.”
Philip Abeyta, Murray’s uncle, said the family was overwhelmed by the Christian love and forgiveness they’ve been shown, and he called it an incredible example of the power of God’s love.
Murray’s parents released a statement that was carried by The Post. In it, they said they were praying for the congregation at New Life and for “all of the dedicated young people at YWAM.”
“We are lost in grief as we prepare to bury our beloved son, Matthew,” the statement said. “We loved Matthew with all our hearts, and we are groping for answers as we try in vain to understand the events of last Sunday. We pray that God will be with our family through the days and weeks ahead and that He will also be with the families of those who have died and those who were injured.”
The couple closed by quoting 1 Corinthians 13.
Wright, the author of Kids in Crisis, told Baptist Press that parenting is a significant life challenge.
“Especially for Christian parents, there’s a pressure to be perfect and there’s a pressure to raise perfect children,” he said. “We have to recognize that each child is different and each child goes through difficult times, and the most important thing that we have is our relationships with our children.
“It is through those relationships with our children that we keep them safe, we keep others safe, and we see them develop in ways that make them into the adults that we want to see them become. That is so critical,” Ross said.
Sometimes parents don’t feel like they have the time to develop meaningful relationships with their children, and instead they try to instill discipline, he said.
“We see a huge move in this country towards a punitive parenting style because they don’t have the time to invest,” Ross said. “Instead they just come down with what we call the bigger hammer and just try and control. And we know that rules without relationship is rebellion.”
Ross said there’s no quick fix for a wayward child, and there is no definite checklist of warning signs that a tragedy is imminent.
“Most kids are mostly OK. And the way that we keep our children and other people safe is through our relationships with them and the structure that we can build in our family with that relationship,” he said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.