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Healing begins after deadly church shooting in Fresno


FRESNO, Calif. (BP)–Support from the larger Christian community was evident Oct. 3 as members of First Southern Baptist Church in Fresno began coming to terms with a fatal shooting at the church several days earlier.
Virgil Turner, 44, was fatally shot Sept. 29 while helping prepare the Wednesday evening fellowship meal at First Southern Baptist Church, also known as The Home Church.
About 40 church members were on hand for the weekly meal when gunfire erupted just after 5:30 p.m. However, no one besides Turner was injured.
Turner, who was unarmed, died of multiple gunshot wounds.
Steven James Knee, 29, was taken into custody several hours later in connection with the killing. Knee, also a Home Church member, was arrested after police stopped his car for allegedly running a stop sign.
A motive for the shooting was not immediately established, although one witness said Turner and Knee had been in conflict for some time. The nature of their dispute was not specified.
Knee was arraigned on a murder charge Oct. 4, the same day Turner’s funeral was conducted. Knee entered a plea of not guilty.
One day earlier, as Home Church members gathered for the first time since the shooting, people from neighboring churches joined hands to form a human prayer chain encircling the First Southern Baptist Church worship center.
Inside the building, Pastor Ed Kuffel comforted grieving church members. He described Turner’s widow, Lisa, and other relatives seated on the front pew as “incredibly courageous” and said, “To some degree we are all victims. We have all been affected by this.”
Praying as the service began, Kuffel asked God to comfort the Turner family as well as “the hurting family of Steven Knee.” He also prayed that God would “begin to heal all the broken hearts” in the congregation and community.
Kuffel acknowledged the pain and grief church members are experiencing but insisted, “We are not going to allow Satan to cause us to miss one step in giving the Lord the praise He is due.
“This was a tragic, evil thing that happened,” he said. “God did not will it, did not want it, but He is able to take it and do something incredible with it. There is no such thing as a wasted experience when it is handed over to the Lord,” Kuffel declared.
Kuffel listed four lessons the congregation can learn from the tragedy:
1. Life is brief so make sure that you do the right thing with it.
“It is not okay to hold onto our anger and not deal with it,” Kuffel said. “It is tragic that we have this incident as our illustration, but what else do you need? Some of us hold onto our grudges as if it were our God-given right and it leads to tragedy.”
2. Death is certain so make sure you are ready.
Kuffel said even though “Virgil had no idea that in one-half hour he would be gone,” Turner’s Christian conversion seven years ago had prepared him for death.
“Virgil heard and believed … he was ready for that unexpected moment. Are you ready?” Kuffel asked.
3. Heaven is awesome so see that you experience it.
“The most wonderful thing about the Kingdom of Heaven is the presence of Jesus,” Kuffel explained. “Virgil is there now. People, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but he’s got the best end of this deal. You and I are in the old order of things but Virgil has gone on to enjoy the fullness of Heaven and all of its glory,” he declared.
4. Revival is needed so make sure you sincerely pray for it.
Kuffel reminded the congregation that they had been praying and preparing for revival services for more than a month before the shooting.
“We’ve experienced a tragedy that reminds us, oh yes, that we need to cry out to God,” Kuffel said. “We need this presence from God now more than ever.”
Although delayed a few hours by events surrounding the shooting, the revival services began as scheduled Oct. 3. Montia Setzler, guest evangelist for the services, noted that he teaches a preaching course in which Turner was enrolled at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s Southern California campus.
“Virgil had a dream to pastor a church,” said Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif. He noted with irony that “on the edge of this revival, Virgil may have been more influential and had more effect than he ever could have as a pastor.”
At the funeral Oct. 4, church members and friends remembered Virgil Turner as faithful, encouraging and enthusiastic. Once again, the church’s pastor used Turner’s memory as an example to challenge the congregation.
“Virgil stumbled and he would get up and keep going because it was his aim to magnify Jesus in all areas of his life,” Kuffel said. “Is that your aim?”

    About the Author

  • Mark A. Wyatt