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Out of the rubble

National | Bandaged, bruised teens give thanks to God for preserving their lives in last month's church blast

Issue: "China’s one-child policy," June 27, 1998

The teenagers who were most seriously injured in a May 24 bomb blast at First Assembly of God in Danville, Ill., have had their stitches removed, and repairs to the sanctuary have begun, pastor Dennis Rogers said in an interview. Damage, caused by a pipe bomb that exploded outside the church during a Sunday morning worship service and blew a 10-by-15-foot hole in the sanctuary wall, was estimated at nearly $200,000. All 33 of those who were injured, mostly junior- and senior-high-school young people in two pews closest to the blast, have recovered, Mr. Rogers said. Nearly 300 worshipers were in the church when the blast occurred.

The lead FBI investigator said it was the first known bombing of a predominantly white church during a church service.

Officially, the investigation is still going on. But sources close to the probe told reporters that investigators are certain the man who built and planted the bomb was Richard D. White, also known as Richard Shotts. Mr. White, 39, a convicted felon with a history of emotional problems, died in a pipe-bomb blast in his garage in another part of town four days after the church bombing. Federal agents and police were on their way to question him when the blast occurred; they said Mr. White's death could have been a suicide or an accident, possibly during an attempt to booby trap the garage.

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The same person who built the Danville bombs also built the one that exploded Dec. 30 outside Oakwood United Methodist Church and killed Brian Plawer, 46, the sources said. Mr. Plawer, his wife, and several others were doing volunteer work on the premises at the time. Oakwood is about 30 minutes from Danville in east central Illinois.

Mr. Rogers, who has been at the church 14 years, said Mr. White had visited First Assembly and other churches in Danville about five years ago, then moved to Florida. He returned to Danville several months ago.

Worship services are being held in the church gym until sanctuary repairs are completed. But on the Sunday following the blast, city fathers invited First Assembly to meet in the civic center. More than 800 attended, twice the church's usual worship attendance. Most of the injured attended, bandages and all. Several of the wounded teenagers gave testimonies, thanking God for deliverance and offering a prayer for Mr. White's family. One of the teens observed that the incident had brought the community closer together. Another said she no longer will take friendships for granted. "It was a pretty bad experience," Nicole Lewis said. "But God already has and will continue to turn it into good."

The episode has made a difference in door-to-door evangelistic visitation, even in "tough" neighborhoods, Mr. Rogers told WORLD. People readily invite him and his wife into their homes now. "We're having an unprecedented opportunity for witness," he said.

Mr. Rogers recalled that the blast occurred just as he was about to say the offering prayer. The wall to his right exploded inward with a flash; a large wooden support beam snapped; and metal shards and debris shot into the left front of the church. He was knocked to the floor. Screams rang out; members sitting farther back rushed to aid those at the front. Then came a "supernatural calm," he said. "I watched our kids, lying in blood, and many of us thought they were dying. But they were praying for their youth group," he told the civic center audience.

The pastor pointed to usher Arnold Kennedy as a testimony to God's intervention. Mr. Kennedy, a man in his 70s, was standing between the wall and the pews of young people when the blast occurred. Amazingly, he survived without a scratch, even though he was covered with grit and debris.

Edward E. Plowman
Edward E. Plowman

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