FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–On Sept. 15, 1999, Larry Ashbrook walked into Wedgwood Baptist Church and opened fire during a youth worship service, killing seven people and injuring several others before taking his own life.
Upon hearing of the shooting, students and faculty members at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, only five miles away from the church in Fort Worth, Texas, were shocked. Seminary students Shawn Brown and Kim Jones were dead, along with alumnus Sydnie Browning and Kristi Beckel, the 14-year-old daughter of another alumnus. Two other students, Jeff Laster and Kevin Galey, were wounded in the tragedy. Soon after the shooting, memorial scholarship funds were established at Southwestern in honor of the two students who were killed.
On the night of the tragedy, Kathy Jo Rogers mourned the death of her 23-year-old husband, Shawn. Ten years later, Rogers and others at the church continue to feel the pain of losing loved ones, but they now rejoice at the impact that God has had through the tragedy. During their evening worship service on Sept. 13, the church will honor their loved ones and celebrate all that God has done through the tragedy over the past 10 years. For Rogers, the celebration is akin to an Easter service, mixing sorrow with joy.
“If we didn’t ever think about the cross, and what Jesus went through, then we wouldn’t consider Easter so glorious, and it is kind of like an Easter service in some ways for us,” Rogers said. “If we don’t focus on how horrible it was, if we forget, we wouldn’t think about how amazing it is that He brought us through it. …
“We are not trying to rehash the past and keep bringing it up just to be sad. For emotional healing, you have to go back and remember what God did. And so we just want to make sure that we give that aspect of it the proper time, too. And then it just makes this 10 years even more amazing, and we praise the Lord that He has brought us this far.”
Rogers said Shawn loved baseball and had a passion for ministry and enjoyed preparing for it through his seminary classes. The couple joked that they had received a two-for-one deal from the seminary because Shawn would tell his wife everything he learned.
“At the time of his death, he was learning about the Levites and worship,” Rogers recalled. “And he was very much excited about Dr. [Roy] Fish’s class and Dr. [Wesley] Black’s. … He would come home every day very excited to tell me what he had learned and how he wanted to implement that in his ministry. And so, at the time, I would say that he was more on fire for ministry and the Lord than I had ever known him to be.”
The couple led a sixth-grade Sunday School class at Wedgwood, and their former students still remember the lessons Shawn taught them. After the tragedy, Rogers said, many of them “felt compelled to live their lives like he taught them.” Before he died, Shawn was preparing to speak at a West Texas youth rally, where he intended to share a message from Hebrews 12: “Run with endurance the race that is set before us” (NASB). This message also became a charge for Shawn’s Sunday School students as well as Rogers.
After the shooting, “I wanted to share with Shawn and talk with him about it and see what he had to say to me,” Rogers said. “And the one person I wanted to talk to about it wasn’t there. So all I had was what he taught me. And he had taught me to run the race and to keep praising and worshipping. So that was a wonderful blessing and charge that I got to use as if he had been here to tell me, because that is what he would have said. That was his gift to me.”
Kim Jones, a 23-year-old graduate from Texas Christian University, enrolled in classes at Southwestern less than a month before the Wedgwood shooting. She desired to serve the one who had saved her from what she called a rebellious and empty life.
“The more I tried to find fulfillment in a life apart from God, the more miserable I became,” Kim wrote in her seminary application. “I then went off to college, determined to change myself. I desperately wanted to become a ‘better person.’
“By the time I was 20, I had made a huge mess of my life. When I looked in the mirror I was ashamed of the person I had become. I was empty and broken, chasing after the things of this world.”
This all changed when Kim gave her life to Christ in the fall of 1996. Her friends and family testified that she surrendered every part of her life to Him and that she lived to tell others about His mercy and grace. In her last journal entry, penned two days before the shooting, Kim wrote, “I don’t want to ever lose the passion of being totally in love with you alone! God, please continue to stir my heart, make me passionate now and always.”
According to Kim’s mother, Stephanie Jones, Kim enjoyed the few weeks she spent at the seminary. She also said that the upcoming memorial service at Wedgwood will be a time for closure, especially for many who knew Kim but were unable to visit Wedgwood after the shooting.
“I think that it is going to be a really good time for all of us to be together again to talk about good memories, and to know that we are moving on and to recognize all the things that God has done,” Jones said. “However, I do not want to take away the hole that is still in our hearts, that we really miss her. … I have probably been more emotional with this 10-year anniversary because it just seems like, wow, we have had to do without her for 10 years. It is the perfect balance: God totally is there for you. He gives you the strength when you are weak, and yet for me the pain is still there, and I still cry.”
Jones said that since Kim’s death her testimony has reached more than 38 countries through a video, titled “Going Home: The Journey of Kim Jones.” Information about the video can be accessed on a website dedicated to Kim’s memory, www.thelightstillshines.org.
According to the site, Kim was an avid backpacker with a heart for missions. Speaking to a group of youth in the Middle East six weeks before the shooting, Kim said, “We’re basically a bunch of backpackers. We are all just travelers. We are all just on a journey, and we’re heading for our home. I think sometimes that we lose sight of that. And sometimes we start to focus so much on this world and we forget that God has said in His Bible that this world is not our home. We are strangers and aliens in this place. This isn’t it. And someday, this body of mine, it’s going to die. It’s going to pass away. And listen to this. This is the most amazing thing: We are forced to live out the rest of eternity based on the decisions that you are making today.”
The “Stones of Remembrance” memorial service at Wedgwood Baptist Church will begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13. The church is also collecting testimonies of how God has changed lives through the shooting. Some of the testimonies will be compiled in a book while others will be posted on The Light Still Shines website.
Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (www.swbts.edu/campusnews).
For complete Baptist Press coverage of the 10th anniversary of the Wedgwood shootings, go to http://bpnews.net/BPCollectionNews.asp?ID=158.