LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–I have met a few heroes. Selflessness sets them apart. Most of them, when explaining their heroic action say something to the effect of “I did not think about it, I just did it.” And all of us who know them thank God for them.
Meet Kirby Martin. While I have always appreciated and liked him, I now know that he is a hero. Kirby has served the Arkansas Baptist State Convention for more than 15 years. As building superintendent he takes care of our physical plant, supervises our print room, reception area and telephone system. Those of us who work with him have profited from his “going the extra mile” by helping us with home repair projects, automobile problems, airport pickups and a host of other things that he does without complaint. Kirby is a hero.
On Aug. 13, Timothy Dale Johnson shot and killed a state political leader seven blocks from our offices. Johnson then drove to our building, reloaded one of his guns and, for reasons unknown to us, began to walk our halls with gun in hand. None of our staff knew he had already shot and killed someone, but several recognized him as distraught and offered assistance. When our receptionist noticed Johnson, she called Kirby, using a special code to indicate there was an emergency. Kirby came to our lobby as Johnson went into a stairwell on his way to our second floor. There they came face to face and Johnson put a gun to Kirby’s head and cocked it. Kirby then turned his back on Johnson, went to the receptionist and instructed her to call 911. Johnson continued upstairs and began to walk our halls, again with gun in hand.
By acting instinctively and by calling the police Kirby already had proven to be a hero. But it was not enough. Knowing that Johnson was upstairs, that he had a gun and that he had already been threatened by Johnson, Kirby went back upstairs to confront Johnson again. Meeting him near the elevator, Kirby opened the door and motioned Johnson to join him in the elevator. They rode down the elevator together and Kirby ushered Johnson from the building. As police began to arrive, Kirby directed them to Johnson and his escape route. What followed was a lengthy chase and Johnson’s death in a shootout.
We are grieved by the death of Johnson’s victim and by his own death. Families and communities are brokenhearted by these events. But we are awed by Kirby Martin’s selflessness. The first encounter with Johnson was no doubt instinctual. But the second was calculated self-sacrifice. Kirby placed himself at risk, knowing the probable consequences, and acted to protect the rest of us. Arkansas Baptists are served by a hero. Pray for our staff, for Kirby, for the grieving families and join us in thanking God that He spared us.
“Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Emil Turner is executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.