On Sept. 15, 1999, seven people were killed at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, by a gunman who then killed himself. This story shares some of the witness of faith that has emerged from those tragic events
Note: On Sept. 15, 1999, seven people were killed at Wedgwood Baptist Church
in Fort Worth, Texas, by a gunman who then killed himself. This story shares
some of the witness of faith that has emerged from those tragic events.
One of Kathy Jo Rogers most vivid memories from the Wedgwood Baptist
Church shootings begins nearly 24 hours earlier, when her husband of nearly
two years, Shawn Brown, came home to their campus apartment at Southwestern
Baptist Theological Seminary as she was cooking supper.
“He said, Kathy, I just need you to pray for me because I have so
much to share that I dont know where to start,” Rogers recounts.
“He was pacing the floor, … wanting to know how he could even begin to
tell what God had laid on his heart.”
He was scheduled to speak to a youth group in West Texas in October and was
preparing a message.
As they ate, Rogers agreed to pray for her husband, who revealed that he had
felt moved to pray for her all that day. A kindergarten teacher, Kathy says
she assumed the urging was due to the stress of her profession.
“I could only imagine what all those prayers were really meant for,”
she says. “There are lots of things, but I never knew that God had really
had him praying for me for the next day.”
The next day, Sept. 15, 1999, was routine.
Brown stopped by and saw Rogers and her students in the morning before proceeding
to seminary. The couple cooked supper together that evening and watched coverage
of Hurricane Floyd. Rogers took a call and agreed to babysit that night as long
as she could bring the kids to Wedgwood Baptist Church for a youth rally.
Shouting obscenities and anti-Christian rhetoric, 47-year-old Larry Gene Ashbrook
entered the rally shortly before 7 p.m. He opened fire on the teenagers and
adults. Seven people were killed or fatally wounded and seven more injured before
Ashbrook turned the gun on himself. As he died, Brown lay among his victims.
Rogers had not yet arrived because she had run late picking up the kids. “We
were about to park in a handicapped space because I was really in a hurry, …”
she says. “I thought, No, these kids will always remember that I
did that, so I didnt. … I parked at the other side of the church,
which is probably why we didnt walk in behind the gunman. Otherwise, we
Rogers and the children heard the shooting as they entered the building, just
as people began running out. Rogers grabbed the hands of the kids and ran for
the parking lot. After getting them to safety, she dialed 911.
The wait for details began. Friends began gathering. The more people arrived,
the more Rogers says she was hurt and comforted at the same time, forced to
confront the reality of Browns death and thankful for their support. They
mourned, prayed and sang into the night.
“There is an unexplainable peace,” Rogers reflects. “There is
no way to explain it, and from that point on, there has been an unexplainable
A turning point came when a friend took her by the hand and urged her to tell
God she trusted him. “They impacted me more than any words I had heard,”
Rogers says. “It really allowed me to understand what it meant to empty
myself of all my understanding of why things like this have to happen and know
that nothing happens to us that doesnt pass through Gods hands first.”
From then on, whenever she was having a hard time, Rogers says she would look
up and pray, “God, I hate this, but I trust you.”
Comfort also came from unexpected sources.
A few weeks after the shootings, Rogers read a local newspaper letter to the
editor about Wedgwood. The letter spoke of Brown, the other victims, Christian
martyrdom and moving forward.
Something about the letter struck a chord with Rogers. The author was Marc
Rogers, a Methodist pastor in Eastland, Texas, her hometown and where Brown
is buried. Rogers says she felt obliged to thank the writer. She traveled to
Marc Rogers church office, where they met and prayed together.
A year later, the two began e-mail correspondence. A year after that, they
were married. Most of Rogers friends were supportive, while some objected,
saying two years was too soon after Shawns death.
“Different Christians have different philosophies about how you should
handle something like that,” Rogers says. “We basically decided that
what we were going to do was look to the Lord and let the Lord make those decisions
and not worry too much about what other people thought. … What was most important
to us was what God wanted for us.”
Still, dealing with memories of that Wedgwood evening can be difficult, Rogers
She says the biggest lessons she has learned from the shooting are that every
moment is precious, that God is trustworthy and that he remains sovereign.
“He brings beauty from ashes,” she says. “I love Isaiah 61:3,
that God brings the oil of gladness instead of mourning. … To me, the theme
of that verse is redeeming power. He can redeem anything, and that is what he
has done for me.” (BP)