News Articles

Students remembered by friends, families; gunman called ‘paranoid sch

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Friends and families of the seven people killed in the deadly shooting Sept. 15 at Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, remembered those slain while the gunman’s brother called Larry Gene Ashbrook a “paranoid schizophrenic.”
Two students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, and a former student were among the seven killed when Ashbrook started randomly shooting inside the sanctuary of the southwest Fort Worth church where about 150 people were celebrating in a rally of the See You At The Pole prayer event. Also killed were three 14-year-olds and a 17-year-old running a video camera who was killed when he turned to tape the shooter.
Susan Kimberly Jones, 23, was enrolled for the fall semester at Southwestern. She sang in the church choir. Friends said she greeted visitors to her dorm room on campus with a Bible verse: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be devoted to another in brotherly love. Romans 12:9-10.”
Jones was a first-year student seeking a master of divinity degree.
Shawn Brown, 23, was seeking a master of arts degree in Christian education at Southwestern. Friends said he was a man on a mission. Brown worked part-time at New Horizons, a mental health facility that provides support to people suffering severe grief and loss and other mental health issues. Part-time, his friends said, sometimes meant 40 hours a week.
Brown and his wife, Kathy Jo, had been married about two years and had no children. He had a particular heart for youth, friends recalled.
“The children who died at Columbine now have a wonderful youth minister in heaven,” Becky Roland, a friend and neighbor of the Browns told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in its Sept. 16 issue.
Sydney Browning, 36, was a 1991 graduate of Southwestern. A native of Phoenix, Ariz., Browning was the director of the children’s choir at Wedgwood and may have been the first killed when she greeted Ashbrook at the door to the sanctuary.
Browning also taught at Success High School, a night school on a Fort Worth high school campus. Students and faculty wore black lapel ribbons in mourning the day after the shooting.
She taught in the Fort Worth school district for five years. An assistant principal, Sheryl Hopper, was near tears as she reminisced about Browning, who she said made Christian music recordings and sang at weddings and funerals, according to a story in the Star-Telegram. Others called her “one of those people who had boundless energy and enthusiasm … .”
Also killed were:
— Kristi Beckel, 14, who was taken off life support at a Fort Worth hospital by her family and her organs and tissue donated. She was shot in the head.
— Joseph Ennis, 14, an only child who recently had been talking about being baptized. He had been attending meetings of the youth group at First Baptist Church, White Settlement.
— Cassandra Griffin, 14, described as having a “very strong faith in God” by her father. A high school freshman, she excelled at the clarinet. Her mother, Tralissa Griffin, was at the church rally, sitting about seven rows behind her daughter.
— Justin “Steggie” Ray, 17, a good kid starting to turn his life around, friends said. A Boy Scout and Cub Scout counselor, he had been floundering for two years after a former stepfather left his life. He was operating the band’s sound equipment at Wedgwood that night when he was shot to death, reportedly when he turned the camera on the shooter. A teacher said he was a quiet thinker who died doing what he loved.
Two Southwestern students were injured in the shootings. Jeff Laster, 34, was shot in the abdomen and is listed in serious condition at a local hospital. Kevin R. Galey, 38, was also in the hospital with an undisclosed gunshot wound.
Five other people in the sanctuary were also wounded, four have been released from the hospital. Robert DeBord, 17, was in fair condition from a wound to the chest. Mary Beth Talley, Jayann W. Brown, 41, and Nicholas Skinner, 14, all have been released.
The gunman, Larry Gene Ashbrook, took his own life, shooting himself in the head while sitting on the last pew in the sanctuary.
His brother, Aaron, who used a 12-gauge shotgun to keep his brother away from his house, said Ashbrook was a “paranoid schizophrenic.”
When police searched Ashbrook’s home they found writings that blame a vague, vast conspiracy, which included military special forces and the CIA, for his inability to keep a job. Police said they may never know for sure what prompted Ashbrook’s rage at the church.
Witnesses said he entered the church and began belittling the people, their Christianity and their belief in God. Ashbrook’s father was a deeply religious man who tithed his income to his church in Arlington, Texas. Hours before the shootings Ashbrook had ripped his family Bible apart page by page, sliced family members out of photographs and used a shovel to stab large family portraits.
Ironically, investigators said he also took time to tend his yard after destroying the inside of the house where his parents had lived for 40 years.
Ahsbrook lived in Florida for some time, working for the U.S. Navy in Jacksonville, and then moved to Texas about 1994. He never married or had children, authorities said. His mother died in 1990 and his 85-year-old father died last July.
The Houston Chronicle, in its Sept. 16 online edition, said Ashbrook identified himself three years ago as a member of a small, violent group that advocates killing Jews and minorities. Police have not found a link but John Craig, co-author of an academic study of such groups, said Ashbrook in 1996 boasted of membership in the Phineas Priests.
Craig, the Chronicle reported, said that organization was outraged at Southern Baptists for their efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. At the time of the church shooting, Baptist churches in Fort Worth, were openly praying for Jewish conversions during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

    About the Author

  • Herb Hollinger