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Miracle spared him in shootings at Yemen hospital, Caswell says

JIBLA, Yemen (BP)–Don Caswell saw the armed man walking toward him and knew — just knew — the gunman was coming to kill him.

“I was looking at him and I saw him look at me. And that instant I realized he was coming right toward the pharmacy,” Caswell said in his soft Texas accent.

Caswell, a pharmacist, was shot twice during the Dec. 30 attack at Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen, but after emergency surgery and treatment he is recovering. When he was able to talk about the shootings a week later, he attributed his survival to a miracle of God.

Three other Southern Baptist workers, physician Martha Myers, hospital administrator William Koehn and purchasing manager Kathleen Gariety, were shot dead by the gunman.

For 35 years, Southern Baptists have treated some 40,000 patients a year at the 45-bed hospital in Jibla, a small town in southern Yemen located 125 miles south of Sanaa, the nation’s capital. Yemen is a rugged desert country that lies along Saudi Arabia’s southern border.

Ironically, the hospital was about to temporarily suspend operations on Dec. 30 when the attacks happened. Administrators of Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board had struggled for years to keep the hospital going despite mounting costs and a lack of Southern Baptist workers to staff the facility. Plans were underway to turn administration of the hospital over to a nonreligious Yemeni charity.

Don and Teri Caswell had worked at the hospital for about 18 months of a two-year term with the International Mission Board’s International Service Corps. Their term was to end in June.

Don grew up in Levelland, Texas, near Lubbock, but he and Teri call Eustace, Texas, home. They are members of First Baptist Church there.


Teri had dropped her husband off around 7:30 a.m. that last Monday in December. She made a quick stop by a grocery before arriving back home to have breakfast with their boys, Ben, 11, and Caleb, 5.

At the hospital, Caswell and a pharmacist from Russia handled a flurry of prescription refills. Around 8 a.m. they heard gunshots.

“It is not unusual in Yemen for people to shoot guns off, but normally not that early in the morning. And it sounded like it was real close,” Caswell recalled.

He walked out the door of the one-room pharmacy and looked down the corridor. He saw a man come out of Bill Koehn’s office.

“I noticed he wasn’t running real fast but he was moving quickly and I noticed a gun in his hand. It was a pistol of some kind. I couldn’t tell for sure what kind it was,” Caswell said.

As he made eye contact with the gunman, Caswell moved back into the pharmacy room, thinking he would move behind a work counter. But the gunman entered immediately behind Caswell and stood no more than five feet away.


“At that time I knew he was going to shoot me,” Caswell recounted. “An incredible thing about that was that I wasn’t filled with a lot of fear,” he said. “I had a certain peace about all this.

“Then a shot came, and I think probably in the back of my mind was, ‘Well, where is he going to shoot and is it going to hurt very much?’

“He got me right here in the side. It wasn’t just an unbearable pain but it did hurt pretty bad. I remember that shot and I thought I heard two more quick shots but I didn’t feel anything else.”

Caswell was hit twice, once in each side, though the second shot apparently entered from the back as he spun around and fell from the impact of the first shot. Caswell thinks he remembers hearing three shots and speculates one shot just missed him completely.

Miraculously the bullets missed major organs, arteries or other body parts that could have killed him. One bullet is still inside; doctors say they will leave it as long as it causes no problems.

Today Caswell marvels that the gunman killed three missionaries with deadly precision, then failed to kill him with two shots. “I know for sure God’s hand was in on it and I didn’t die for a reason. The ultimate reason I know is that God will be glorified,” Caswell said.

“At that time maybe I hit the floor real fast — it seemed like slow motion. I just hit the floor on my face. I had my hand like this,” he said, showing how he covered his face with a hand.

“Then I was thinking, I thought he [the gunman] was right in front of me and he would shoot me in the head or something, but I laid there and nothing happened, and I never heard anything else,” Caswell said.


In the warped perception of time in crisis events, Caswell clearly recalls talking to God in that quick-but-long few seconds between the time he was shot and when help arrived in the form of doctors and nurses.

“This whole time I was just talking to God and it did hurt a little but … I didn’t feel like I’m dying, whatever that feels like, you know,” he said. “But still at this time I never was unconscious. I just had this peaceful feeling.

“Seems to me maybe I was talking to God out loud. Maybe it was just in my mind, but I was asking the Lord if this was the time he was going to take me, if I was going to die there.

“I remember telling him that, ‘Lord, if you want to take me it’s fine, but I would really like to stay here and not leave Teri and the boys alone here like this.”

Doctors rushed Caswell to an operating room, where most supplies had been packed away. But missionary physician Judy Williams had insisted on leaving out enough instruments and other items for emergency surgery.

She asked Australian physician Ken Clezy to do the exploratory surgery on Caswell because she was the only one who could locate packed supplies quickly.


After getting a phone call telling her Don had been “hurt,” Teri tried to call the hospital. When she got no answer, she drove the four or five miles or so to the hospital at breakneck speed, honking the horn to clear people out of the way.

Seeing soldiers around the hospital, she knew something major had happened. Only when she got inside did she understand that her husband had been shot. She was able to speak to Don and kiss him just before they wheeled him in for surgery.

Exploratory surgery ascertained that the bullets had missed vital organs and that there was no internal bleeding. As soon as he recovered sufficiently, the Caswells went to another country to recuperate.

As they walked around town with their boys, visited a park and bought ice cream cones, Don and Teri kept looking at each other, gratitude fairly shining in their faces for this extended time they now have together. After so much uncertainty, Teri is finally able to kid Don about being shot in his “love handles.”

She said with a grin: “We’re just thankful he’s a little overweight.”


With their current Yemen assignment almost complete anyway, the Caswells did not yet know for sure what they would do next. They planned to wait to hear what God has for them.

Would they return to Yemen? “Yes, if that’s where God calls us,” Caswell said.

What would they say to Southern Baptists who have supported them? “Keep praying!” Teri said. “We’re OK! And we’re going to do what the Lord wants us to do.

“We don’t know exactly what that is yet. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, because he’s that kind of God, that he’s going to use this for his glory. He’s going to use this to build his church. And I believe that with all my heart.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MIRACLE, SMALL THINGS, WAITING ON GOD, and GRATEFUL.
— Many inspired by slain workers; others ask why they went at all: www.imb.org/learn/news/story.asp?id=878.
— Complete coverage of the Yemen murders: www.imb.org/urgent.
— Memorial gifts honor Yemen martyrs: resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/871.htm.
— What could you do overseas? going.imb.org/whatcanido.asp.
The International Mission Board (www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (ime.imb.org).

    About the Author

  • Mike Creswell