Cover Story

God's instruments

He put them to glorious use at Wedgwood

Issue: "Gunpoint evangelist," Oct. 9, 1999

In God's providential economy, maybe there's no such thing as a hero. Perhaps people who make sacrificial decisions in moments of crisis are more properly called "His instruments." If that's true, then God had many instruments on the night of Sept. 15 at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

  • Mary Beth Talley was willing to risk her life for a friend. The strawberry blond 17-year-old was passing out youth rally fliers, she says, when "all of a sudden this strange guy walks through the [foyer] doors and just starts shooting. I knew it was not the skit, because I was a part of the skit. I just shot through the sanctuary door." Mary Beth says she ran into the sanctuary instead of out of the church because her body "just shut off and I was on auto-pilot. I was just, like, 'Do this, do that.'" Mary Beth spotted Laura MacDonald and her daughter Heather inside the sanctuary. "I said, 'Laura there is a guy with a gun, we need to get down.' I just stayed down until it was over." Mary Beth "just stayed down," but she also may have saved Heather MacDonald's life. Heather, 18, has Down syndrome and even during Ashbrook's murderous rampage in the sanctuary, didn't understand she was in danger. Throughout the shooting, Mary Beth helped Heather lie low, shielding her with her body-consciously doing so even after Ashbrook shot Mary Beth in the back. "My thinking was to keep her calm so as not to bring attention to her." At one point, Mary Beth says she panicked because Heather stopped moving after a gunshot. "I looked at her face to make sure she was still alive."
  • Matt Sanders and Will Kantz helped evacuate more than 30 children from Wedgwood's sprawling red brick complex. While discussing upcoming Sunday school lessons in a room near the center of the complex, the pair saw children's ministry director Kim Herron streak by in the hallway. "We heard the word shooting," says Mr. Sanders, who is news director at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. "I went to the door and yelled out, 'Is this real?'" At that moment, Mr. Sanders says he and Mr. Kantz, a counselor, heard what sounded like gunshots. The two quickly alerted children's ministry workers in several classrooms, telling them to lock their rooms and stay away from the windows. Mr. Sanders' two daughters, 5 and 3, were in the preschool area. He remembers thinking: "Do I save my children or all the children?" In a wrenching moment, he decided "all children," and left his daughters under lockdown with the other kids instead of taking them to safety outside the church.
  • Chip Gillette, a 13-year veteran police officer and Wedgwood member, was sitting at home that evening contemplating a nap when Jake, the Gillette family's affable yellow Labrador, began barking. Stepping outside to investigate, Mr. Gillette learned of the gunman in the church from Paul Glenn, a Wedgwood member who had run outside seeking help. Mr. Gillette sent in a report over his take-home police radio. Then he donned his bulletproof vest and rushed across the street into the church. Although he is credited with being the first armed police officer on the scene, he wishes he could've gotten there sooner. "I wish I could've killed the guy.... I wish I could have stopped him so that no one else would have died."
  • Small kindnesses can also loom large. After the shootings, amid the hysteria of sobbing survivors, church member Nancy Crane launched an ad hoc reunion ministry. "She would take one parent by the hand and say, 'Come on. We're going to find your children,'" remembers Wedgwood education minister Mr. Shirley. "She would stay with that person until the children were found."

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