After shooting, church leader addresses members
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) ” The leader of a church where a man with anti-Christian beliefs fatally shot two members and wounded three others told his church to find strength in their faith and resist the urge to live in fear.
The Rev. Brady Boyd, senior pastor for New Life Church, also asked for compassion for the family of gunman Matthew Murray at a “family meeting” Wednesday night to mourn and pray.
“The loss of a child is the loss of a child,” Boyd told an audience of 6,000.
The shooting began midday Sunday as a church service was letting out. Wearing a trench coat and carrying an assault rifle, Murray opened fire in the church complex’s parking lot and headed into the church. As Murray walked down a church hallway, a volunteer security guard shot him several times before he turned the gun on himself.
Twelve hours before the church shooting and about 65 miles away, the 24-year-old Murray killed two people and injured two others when he opened fire at Youth With a Mission, a missionary training center in the Denver suburb of Arvada.
Murray’s family said Wednesday that they are “groping for answers” and praying for the victims’ families. The family said in a written statement that they will hold a private funeral for him later this week.
“We are lost in grief as we prepare to bury our beloved son, Matthew. We loved Matthew with all our hearts, and we are groping for answers as we try in vain to understand the events of last Sunday,” the family said.
In between the shootings, Murray is believed to have left several posts on Web sites warning that he was going to kill Christians.
In Arvada, relatives of the two slain missionaries, Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, met privately with Murray’s parents Wednesday to grieve and offer prayers for both the attacker and his victims.
“We believe that she (Johnson) would want to forgive. I just want to extend from our family to theirs forgiveness. They have done nothing wrong,” said Johnson’s uncle, Andy Ronchak.
Also Wednesday, about 1,000 people attended a memorial service for Johnson and Crouse at Faith Bible Church near the Youth With a Mission campus. Under heavy security, they shed tears, laughed at anecdotes and sang Christian rock songs as they celebrated the lives of Johnson and Crouse.
Murray was dismissed from Youth With a Mission in 2002 for what the training center has described only as health reasons. Youth With a Mission maintains an office at New Life Church’s World Prayer Center.
Police said Wednesday that Murray had an assault rifle, a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun when he entered New Life church. Investigators found an AK-47 assault rifle in his car and a .22-caliber handgun at his home.
Murray purchased the weapons between November 2006 and Sept. 11 in the Denver area and in Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs police spokesman Skip Arms said.
Arms said 26 rounds had been fired from Murray’s Bushmaster assault rifle and one round from the Springfield 9 mm.
Jeanne Assam, the volunteer security guard at New Life who shot and wounded Murray, had a Beretta 9 mm semiautomatic handgun and fired a total of 10 rounds, Arms said.
Threats made between the shootings ” and other anguished, despair-filled messages over the past few months ” were posted by someone using the screen names “nightmrchild26” and “Christnghtmr.” The postings paint a picture of a home-schooled Colorado youth once affiliated with the Youth With a Mission program ” as Murray had been.
Arvada police spokeswoman Susan Medina said police could not say with certainty who nghtmrchld26 is. The operator of the site where several postings were made between the shootings said his forum agreed to turn over all relevant information, and provided the FBI the Internet Protocol address of nghtmrchld26 to help confirm the poster’s identity.
Murray also was apparently posting to a different forum under the name DyingChild”65, and may have foretold of his rampage there, too. In one posting, he refers to one of the Columbine killers and the gunman who opened fire at Virginia Tech. He also mentioned Ricky Rodriguez, who stabbed a prominent member of a church once known as the Children of God, then shot himself in the head in 2005.
The group had been accused of sexually and physically abusing child members during the 1970s and 1980s.
On Wednesday night, before the gathering at New Life Church, Carol Wodtke started crying as she walked through the hallway where Murray was shot ” a path she and her husband, George, regularly took when coming to church.
“Even though we don’t know the victims, we feel very connected to them and their families,” she said.
A group of teenage girls wrapped arms around each other in a group hug. At least a half dozen uniformed police officers were walking around inside the church.
Boyd said the church would have a more visible security detail in the future but would not resort to metal detectors.
“We will not make decisions with fear,” Boyd said. “This is a safe place to worship.”