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The victims: From left to right, Tiffany Johnson (26), Philip Crouse (24), Stephanie Works (18), Rachel Works (16)

After the horror

Crime | Ministry, church seek healing in the wake of Colorado murders

Issue: "Out from the shadows," Dec. 22, 2007

As a prayer coordinator for New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Jackie Johnson was used to phone calls that delivered bad news. But she was unprepared for the magnitude of the call she received the afternoon of Dec. 9: a shooting at the church. Three injured. One church member, plus the shooter, dead. Another church member in critical condition.

"I stopped right there in the middle of my hallway at home, put the phone down, and prayed," said Johnson, 46.

Around the world, prayer continues in the aftermath of twin assaults on Christian ministries in Colorado-the first in the dormitory of the Arvada, Colo., Youth With a Mission (YWAM) training center, and the second 80 miles away at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

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Shooter Matthew Murray, 24, a troubled former homeschooler raised in what neighbors say was a "religious" family, had reportedly attended YWAM's Arvada missions training program in 2002. But according to the YWAM website, Arvada directors deemed it "inappropriate" for Murray to continue in the program due to "issues with his health."

At 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 9, Murray, by then a disaffected internet junkie who professed hatred for Christians, attacked the YWAM dormitory, killing Tiffany Johnson, 26, of Minnesota, and Philip Crouse, 24, of Alaska, and injuring two others.

Declaring the mission a crime scene, police quickly evacuated residents to another YWAM facility about 30 minutes away. Nine hours later, amid a media crush, Arvada mission co-director Peter Warren and other YWAM leaders met to decide how to handle the first critical days after the shootings.

During a conference that lasted from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., they decided to focus on gathering affected families and providing counseling and pastoral care for the mission students and staff.

Just as their meeting concluded, Matthew Murray was preparing for his second assault.

New Life pastor Brady Boyd had no specific reason to suspect that Murray would target his church. But Boyd, who took over the pastorate in 2006 after the Rev. Ted Haggard gay-sex scandal, knew that the church's size (10,000 members) and national visibility made caution essential. After learning of the Arvada shootings, Boyd implemented a security plan that included posting an armed guard in the building's rotunda-just in case.

Boyd's planning-and a woman's bravery-saved lives. Just after New Life's second worship service, Murray walked into the building armed with a rifle, two handguns, and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. He was able to get off several rounds, killing Stephanie Works, 18, and wounding four others before volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam, 42, shot him several times. He then shot himself, taking his own life. Stephanie's sister Rachel, 16, died at a hospital later that evening.

"I just prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide me," said Assam, a former police officer, who took cover on spotting the gunman and then emerged to confront him. "My hands weren't even shaking. . . . I identified myself, and engaged him, and took him down. It just seemed like it was me, the gunman, and God."

Colorado Springs police and church officials say Assam's decisive action saved scores of lives.

Connections between YWAM and New Life may have led Murray to choose the church as the scene of his second attack. YWAM rents office space at New Life, and the slain Works sisters were involved in the church's YWAM program. An older sister from the Works family participated in YWAM's training program. Stephanie's twin sister was present at New Life at the time of the shooting.

In a dark diatribe posted on the internet after the YWAM shootings, Murray blamed Christians and warned that his bloody spree was not over. "You Christians brought this on yourselves," Murray wrote at 11:03 a.m. on Dec. 9. "I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the @#%$ teeth and I WILL shoot to kill."

New Life prayer coordinator Jackie Johnson told WORLD that Murray, a troubled man who had been urged by some associates to seek counseling, misunderstood his victims. "New Life has always been a church that's welcoming and forgiving," Johnson said. "If this person had lived, we would have tried to find out what his needs were and tried to help him."

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