Friends and families of the seven people killed in the deadly shooting Sept. 15 at Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, remembered those slain by gunman Larry Gene Ashbrook.
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 fourteen-year-olds and a seventeen-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 one 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, loss, and other mental health issues. Part-time, his friends said, sometimes meant forty 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.
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 Fort Worth 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.
Reactions, Reflections, Sympathy, and Prayer
"The murder of these innocent people is tragic, but for their murder to occur in a place dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel of hope, a house for the worship of the God of peace, makes the tragedy even more stark.
"He [the gunman] acted … out against those he identified with God. We understand that the only ultimate solution for the violence that punctuates and permeates human society is the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The families of the young people and adults who were brutally murdered have our prayers. The pastor and church leaders have been under the load of this burden without intermission, and we are praying for them that they may have unusual insight, stamina, and ability."
Morris H. Chapman, SBC Executive Committee president and chief executive officer
"My heart is greatly saddened at the tragic news from one of our great churches in Fort Worth that also affects our sister seminary at Southwestern. We extend our heartfelt sympathy and promise of prayer support to all families at Wedgwood Baptist Church and Southwestern."
Paige Patterson, SBC president and president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
"It has long been said the church is watered by the blood of martyrs. That has seemed a very old thing to us – very remote truth to us.
"Let us pray that these who died in Christ may be witnesses not only to the church but to the world. Let us pray that as God so shakes, that which can be shaken is exposed and that which cannot be shaken is revealed as being of the true and living God, for there is no other explanation.
"This gunman does not have the last word. The last word is the word of He Who speaks and ever lives."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
"As I left the packed auditorium alone, the school chime began to ring. … I knew that I would not forget this day the rest of my life. I keep reflecting on the reasons why this has been such a profound experience to walk through. True, it is near where I live. It happened in a church. It was my former church body. I knew some of the people. But, it is more than that.
"I believe, for me, that it is the realization once again of our purpose in life – to bring glory to God. It is why we were created, and why we live. It is more important than anything else. Why has this tragedy reminded me of this? Because it is ever-so apparent through this incident that God's glory often requires sacrifice on our part … suffering … even death."
Email reflections from one who attended funeral services of Wedgwood victims.