News Articles

Shooting at church day care leaves anguishing questions

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Shots rang out as parents, grandparents and other relatives were bringing children to Crestwood Baptist Church’s Day Care Center in Oklahoma City on the morning of April 21.
A continuing domestic conflict was brought to an abrupt end as 31-year-old Timothy Pershica allegedly shot his 28-year-old former wife, Karen, then turned the gun on himself. Both were dead at the scene in the church’s gymnasium.
Police detectives said Karen Pershica was delivering her children, Clinton, 5, and Jessica, 3, to the day-care facility when her ex-husband approached her, although she had a victims protective order against him.
He cornered her in the church’s gymnasium, and those in the day-care center said they heard no screaming or yelling until the shots were fired.
Day-care officials said none of the 90 children were injured and none of them witnessed the shooting.
Crestwood pastor Randy Cox said Tuesday afternoon that everything was very, very quiet, and all children had been picked up from the center by 11 a.m.
The day-care facility opened again at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
When a tragedy such as the shooting occurs, questions arise as to why it happened, could it have been prevented and are day-care centers safe for children? Sheri Babb, children’s/preschool ministries specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said when something like the shooting happens, it’s just like any other disaster. “It was something that could not have been prevented,” she noted. “It was a violent act from an aggressive person.”
Cox said it was most unfortunate that the incident happened at Crestwood, but very fortunate that the gunman didn’t involve his kids.
Cox added the safety of the children at the day-care facility is of primary concern, but nothing different will be done because of this incident.
“We have a good safety system in place already,” Cox explained. “It was not the system that broke down.”
Cox said detectives told him Pershica was going to confront his wife, and he wasn’t going to be stopped.
At Crestwood’s day school, those dropping off children have to ring a bell and identify themselves before gaining admission to the building, Cox said.
“Apparently what happened today is that Pershica watched his wife go in, then when some other parents came to the door, he followed them in.”
The Department of Human Services commended the Crestwood day-care workers for their actions in “doing everything right” during the situation.
Babb said TV reports on the incident made it look like Crestwood didn’t have security in place.
“But most all of the facilities in our churches have a check-in, check-out system, and a packet of information that has to be filled out by parents, such as security cards, information on the children and injury forms,” she noted. She said 115 day-care centers in Oklahoma Baptist churches are members of Church Weekday Education Organization, and there are approximately 135 others not members of the organization.
Babb added day-care centers are secure places where parents can leave their children with qualified teachers.
“We would much rather the parents be with the children,” Babb said, “but there are parents who have desperate needs, and the church needs to be involved in the day-care centers helping the director and teachers meet the needs of all of the families, not just families who are members of the church.
“The weekday centers in our churches provide that Christian day care children wouldn’t get in any other child-care facility.”
Babb noted the incident at Crestwood “may speak louder to us a church people to say we need to make sure we have some kind of evangelistic efforts taking place in those church weekday programs, some way to witness to those parents and see that their needs are being met.”
She explained sometimes what happens in weekday programs is the church will see it as a separate part, almost not a ministry anymore.
“Many times, the church will say, ‘If you can make it on your own money, fine, you can have the day-care center,’” Babb said.
“What we need to do is pull that together again so the churches have the child-care center as a ministry of the church,” she said. “That’s going to be more important everyday as we see the government providing more and more child-care facilities.”
Ironically, Pershica was being ministered to by Oklahoma City’s Portland Avenue Baptist Church, where he had been a member about six months.
“Lately he had been very faithful, coming to Sunday school, both worship services on Sunday and Wednesday night services,” said pastor Walter Mullican. He was in church Sunday night before the Tuesday morning shooting.
Mullican said he and a couple other men in the church spent time with Pershica trying to be there anytime there was a crisis and talking through his divorce.
“There were some indications he had some suicidal tendencies, but not so much that he might take violent action against his wife,” Mullican said.
He said Pershica’s wife, Karen, attended Portland Avenue with the children about a year ago and was considering moving her membership there, but “she dropped out of sight and we found out she was separated.”
“When that happened, he started coming to church,” Mullican observed. “He wouldn’t come when she came and that was part of the problem. At one point she was really searching and he was resistant.”
Mullican said Portland Avenue members have been scratching their heads and asking if they missed something — if something could have been done to prevent the tragedy.
“I frankly don’t know that anything different could have been done,” he assessed. “Tim was hearing what he needed to hear — his relationship with God, what he needed to be doing and how it could be helpful — but the bottom line comes down to whether he accepts it and does it or not.
“We have to understand when Tim made up his mind to do that, outside of one of us chaining ourselves to him and being with him 24 hours a day, I don’t know that we could have prevented this.”
Mullican pointed out there are a lot of hurting people, and some are in the church.
“You just keep presenting them with the truth, keep loving and ministering to them,” he said.
“There was a spiritual battle of cosmic proportions going on with Tim. On the one hand, he was hearing very clearly the truth of God’s Word and what needed to be in his life. At the same time, the enemy was whispering in the other ear, ‘Tim, this is the way you do that.’ We’re talking about spiritual warfare and battle that is going on for the very lives and souls of people.
“Everything in me wants to prevent something like this, but in the end, that person has got to make the decision.”

    About the Author

  • Dana Williamson