Sept. 16, 1999: Shock overtakes Fort Worth as news of tragedy spreads to homes, churc


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Our local news paper ran this story as a reminder of the evil that invaded a church not far from me 10 years ago. One of my daughter's friends forgot to invite her there that night. Just a reminder to carry everywhere and be sure to remain in condition yellow. There are no safe places.

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Sept. 16, 1999: Shock overtakes Fort Worth as news of tragedy spreads to homes, churches
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Tags: Fort Worth, disasters, bulletins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Wedgwood Baptist Church, churches, youth ministry, crime victims, Tarrant County, news, J.J. Shorr, Late last night, youths, metal detectors, dateline, Little League, news shows, Boy Scouts, NOTES, traffic accidents, soccer, J.J., sanctuary, patrol cars, gunman, choirs, heaven, communities, pain, dinners, saw, God, suburbs, TV, speeds, Maxine Harrington, summer, plenty, coaching,

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By Tim Madigan

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Editor's note: This report was published in the Star-Telegram on Sept. 16, 1999.

FORT WORTH -- Like a biblical plague, the tragedy last night at Wedgwood Baptist Church engulfed a community house by house.

On a gorgeous late-summer night, there were soccer practices and Little League games, dinners with friends and quiet nights with families at home. The pulse of Fort Worth and its surrounding suburbs beat quietly.

Then, in the flash of a TV bulletin, Tarrant County was plunged into darkness, a collective anguish made worse by news that at least some of the dead were young people and that they had died in a church.

Late last night, even those who had no connection to the church or the victims spoke of it in quiet voices, dusky with shock.

"It's very scary," J.J. Shorr said. "It's very scary."

For her, as for most who saw the first bulletins on television, the tragedy of Wedgwood Baptist dawned gradually. Shorr, 73, a longtime member of an Arlington church, was watching the news program Dateline when the local news broke in.

There was a shooting, but no news at first of fatalities. The video was of wounded youngsters. Then there were reports that teen-agers were dead, and of a deranged gunman who had killed himself.

Shorr's mind went immediately to her own church, and the thriving youth ministry there, and the nightly Boy Scout meetings, and the doors that were never locked.

"Why would you ever lock a door in a church?" she asked slowly. "That's what went through my mind. Oh, my heaven, our children are in danger in the most protected place that God ever made, his own home, but they come in and shoot."

Isn't it ironic, she thought, that in mass killings such as last night's, that the last to die is the killer himself, as if in that act, the madman would somehow find absolution.

"There's nothing sacred," she said. "You know how many good sweet times you had in church, and to think that this had to happen. It scares you to think that kids will have a different feeling about going to church meetings and this type of thing. I'm hoping there won't, but it's possible."

Robert Hannan, coaching a youth soccer team, saw squad cars speeding by while his team practiced last night in southwest Fort Worth. He assumed the police were headed to a traffic accident. Not until returning home did he learn otherwise.

To him, it was shocking and sad. His two daughters, ages 9 and 7, were both aware of what had happened before going to bed.

"I don't know what to say to them," Hannan said. "But obviously, we want to keep them pretty close. It's just a reminder of how important they are."

Maxine Harrington of Fort Worth first believed that the shootings had happened again in some other city. Then she heard the words Wedgwood Baptist Church, not far from her home.

"Goodness, here in Fort Worth, in a church of all places," she said. "You don't expect a metal detector in church. A church should be a place open to everyone, not a place where you keep people out."

At Rush Creek Christian Church in Arlington, relatives called to check on family members at the church for choir practice, worried that the gunman might have escaped to continue his rampage in other sanctuaries.

One member there, Janice Lord, is a counselor who has specialized in assisting crime victims. She has worked at tragedies across the United States. But what happened last night much closer to home appeared to overwhelm even her.

"I feel wasted," she said. "You know you've done this a lot, and you've seen it too much. On one hand, if there's something to do tomorrow, I want to help. But there's another part of me that says, `Oh, my God, I hope no one calls me.' I don't want to go there.

"Too much pain," she added. "This is just not 15 families in crisis, or a Baptist church in crisis. It's a community in crisis.

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