Fort Worth church knows ‘all too well’ the horror of a mass
BY DIANE SMITH
June 18, 2015 12:31 PM
Updated November 05, 2017 04:17 PM
The headlines Wednesday were hauntingly familiar.
Charleston church shooting: Multiple deaths reported
Charleston church shooting: 9 killed in what officials call a
On Sept. 15, 1999, horror struck Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist
Church when Larry Gene Ashbrook invaded a youth rally carrying
200 rounds of ammunition and a pipe bomb. Before he turned his
gun on himself, seven people were dead and seven others injured.
Now the Wedgwood church community is praying for members of
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, who
are mourning the loss of a pastor and eight others.
“Your heart aches for them,” said the Rev. Al Meredith,
Wedgwood’s senior pastor. “Nine people murdered in a church is
an egregious tragedy, as we well know.”
Meredith said the Charleston congregation has lost its leader
and will need prayers to hold it together through a deeply
trying time. The attack on the historic black church comes after
the recent shooting death of an unarmed black man by a North
Charleston police officer. The climate is that of a “tinderbox,”
“Charleston is in the midst of deep racial tension,” said
Meredith, who is widely known as Brother Al. “We need to pray
for that community.”
Meredith said his congregation was able to recover with the help
of Fort Worth’s extended community. Police officers, community
leaders and politicians stepped up support. The congregation
received 13,000 letters and about 20,000 emails after the
shooting, he said.
‘Churches are not safe places’
Hurst police officer Jimmy Meeks, who is also a minister, said
Thursday that since 1999, when the Wedgwood and Columbine
massacres took place, more than 550 people have died violent
deaths on church or faith-based property. The deaths, which are
not always shootings, cross religious, racial and ethnic lines,
he said. Often, they are domestic violence cases that start in a
home and erupt in a place of worship.
“Churches are not safe places,” Meeks said. “Criminals don’t
believe in the sacredness of a building.”
Meeks has conducted about 120 church safety seminars in the last
six years as part of sheepdogsafetytraining.com
, which advocates
safe practices for congregations. He reminds churches to “be on
your guard against men. They will harm you in the house of
worship.” That means getting security guards on church campuses
and parking lots, he said.
“Where does this murdering come from?” Meeks said. “People get
angry and they get filled with hate and then attack.”
Violence on churches take an emotional toll for many years,
Meeks said, explaining how a 1980 mass murder at the First
Baptist Church in Daingerfield still lingers. Meeks, who was
married in that church, has ties to that community.
“These people in South Carolina, unfortunately, the pain has
just begun,” Meeks said.
Experience comforting others
Meredith, who has announced plans to retire in mid-August, said
he may try to contact Charleston church leaders to offer
support. In the past, he helped comfort the First Baptist Church
congregation in Maryville, Ill., when it lost its pastor to a
shooter. The Rev. Fred Winters was shot and killed during a
Sunday sermon in 2009.
In 2012, Meredith was among religious leaders who offered
prayers to families in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six
adults were gunned down inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In 2013, he hosted a two-day seminar — organized in part by
Meeks — that focused on helping those affected by crimes and
violent acts at churches and also included presentations on
child predators, security plans and church safety.
“Right now, they are in shock,” Meredith said of the Charleston
church. “It is shocking to think there is no sanctuary. There is
no safe place.”
THIS REPORT INCLUDES MATERIAL FROM THE STAR-TELEGRAM ARCHIVES.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675