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A Chronicle of Mass Murders at Faith-Based Organizations

Kimathi T. Lewis



When the panic system alarm sounded at the Focus on the Family Center, Carl Chinn thought one of the receptionists was doing a test. He rushed to the lobby, measuring his response time.

It took him 17 seconds to reach the top of the stairs where he could see the lobby desk below. He saw the man standing in the lobby, but thought nothing of it. As he and the responding security guard approached him from opposite sides, the man started to yell.

Then Chinn saw the gun, the bulging military-style vest packs on the floor and the trigger in the man’s hand.

The man was a disgruntled subcontractor who was not satisfied with the money he received after being injured on the ministry’s grounds. For almost two hours, the man held Chinn, the security guard and the receptionists hostage before a negotiator convinced him to release them.

Chinn, who was the building engineer, left after the incident, which happened in 1996, determined to learn more about safety and security at faith-based organizations.

Since then he has been tracking mass murders at faith-based organizations based on the FBI’s former definition, which involved the death of four people or more in a single incident. Since then, the FBI has lowered the death count to three.

Based on the former definition, Chinn said he has found 13 incidents of mass murders at faith-based organizations. This does not include Sunday’s shooting. And none of them, except for New Life, had prepared security on their sites.

September 15, 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama: White men motivated by hate and connected to the KKK planted dynamite on a timer under a street-side stairwell at the church. When it exploded, four black girls who had gone to the bathroom were killed. They were 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Robertson. The suspects: Bobby Cherry was convicted in 2002 and died in prison; Thomas Blanton was convicted in 2001 and remains in prison; Robert Chambliss was convicted in 1977 and died in prison in 1985, and Herman Cash was never convicted and died in 1994.

June 22, 1980 First Baptist Church in Daingerfield, Texas: Motivated by hatred towards “moralists,” a gunman entered the sanctuary, yelling, “This is War!” He opened fire on the congregation and in less than a minute killed 7-year-old Gina Linam and adults Thelma Richardson, Gene Gandy, Red McDaniel and Ken Truitt. The gunman, Alvin King, tried to kill himself, but was arrested and eventually hang himself in prison.

Aug. 9, 1991 Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple in Waddell, Arizona: Two teenagers, an Hispanic and an Asian, motivated first by robbery, then frenzied into a war games fantasy, had six monks, two nuns and a helper lie on the floor then shot them in the back of the head, execution-style. All the victims were Asian. The shooters, Jonathan Doody and Allesandro “Alex” Garcia were arrested a short time later and remain in prison.

March 10, 1999:  New St. John Baptist Church in Gonzales, Louisiana: A gunman killed his estranged wife’s mother at her home then drove to the church during their evening service. When the gunman’s 2-year-old son saw him and called out, “Daddy,” the gunman responded, “Boy, don’t call me daddy, now” and killed him. He then killed his wife and a man sitting nearby. The gunman, Shon Miller, was arrested.

September 15, 1999:  Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas: A man known for being mentally unstable snapped when his father died. He drove to a church where a youth event was being held and shot his first victim while walking through the lobby doors. He said, angrily, “Is this where that damn prayer meeting is going on?” The shooter, Larry Ashbrook, proceeded to shoot more people, killing seven and wounding another seven before killing himself.

March 12, 2005:  Living Church of God in Brookfield, Wisconsin: A man known to have battled depression and obsessing that he would lose his job became angry at his pastor’s sermon. Two weeks later he left the Sunday morning service and then came back, shooting. Terry Ratzman killed the pastor and six others before killing himself.

Aug. 28, 2005: Sash Assembly of God Church in Sash, Texas: A church neighbor who was known for not liking any church activities, walked up to a deacon in the parking lot and shot him to death. He then shot and killed the pastor who was standing nearby and, as he fled, shot and killed two women who had stopped on a road to check their horse trailer. The gunman, A.P. Cranshaw, got involved in a shootout with police, before shooting himself.

May 21, 2006: Ministry of Jesus Christ Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Erica Bell had asked for removal of a restraining order from her abusive ex-husband when he attacked her in church. He killed four members of her family, shot and critically wounded her mom, the pastor, and then kidnapped Bell. He killed her at another location. Anthony Bell was arrested a short time later and remains in prison.

Oct. 2, 2006: Old Order Amish School (West Nickel Mines School) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: A man angry with God over the death of his newborn daughter nine years earlier decided to strike back. He forced five school girls, ages 8, 12 and 13 as well as two 7-year-olds, against the wall and shot them execution style (most of them in the back of the head). Charles C. Roberts wounded six others before killing himself.

December 9, 2007: Youth with a Mission and New Life Church in Arvada and Colorado Springs, Colorado, respectively: After posting a diatribe on the internet, “Christian America – this is your Columbine,” a gunman killed a man and woman and wounded two others at the YWAM where he was told he could not spend the night. He then drove down the interstate to New Life Church 77 miles away where he killed two sisters, 16 and 18 years old, in the parking lot. and injured three before he was shot by church security. Matthew Murray then shot himself.

April 2, 2012: Oikos University (a Christian University) in Oakland, California: Angry over a tuition reimbursement dispute, a student returned with a .45 caliber pistol. When he didn’t find the person he was looking for he began shooting in anger, killing a man and six women before fleeing the scene. One Goh was arrested a short time later and remains in prison.

August 5, 2012 Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek, Wisconsin: As Sunday morning services were in session, an alcoholic army veteran involved in white supremacy and misogyny, entered  the temple through the kitchen and began shooting. He killed three people inside the temple and another three outside before law enforcement arrived. The five men and one woman, ranged in age from 39 to 84 years old. When the officers confronted Wade Michael Page, he reportedly wounded one of them before committing suicide.

June 17, 2015 Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina: A young white supremacist had been unknowingly welcomed into a Wednesday night service at one of the oldest black churches in America, when he tried to kill almost everyone in the small Bible study group. He killed the senior pastor, who was a state senator, and eight others. Dylan Roof was captured the next morning in Shelby, North Carolina during a traffic stop on Route 74. He later testified that he wanted to start a race war.

October 5, 2017 Texas First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas: A man killed 26 people and injured 20 others. And police believe the man may have been aiming for his mother-in-law who attends the church, but was not there on the day of the shooting. A neighbor shot the gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, who managed to escape and then killed himself.

Chinn said he plans to renew his research with the FBI’s new definition. Though this list is far from complete, the following incidents will likely be included under the new definition:

May 20, 2007 Presbyterian Church in Moscow, Idaho: A man killed three people including the church’s facility manager and a police officer before killing himself.

August 12, 2007 First Congregational Church in Neosho, Missouri: Shouting, “Liar, liar!” a man opened fire at a Micronesian service, killing the pastor and two deacons as well as wounding five others. The gunman, who was also a member of the Micronesian community, but not an active member of that church, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty.

April 13, 2014 Overland Park Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas: A gunman opened fire at a Jewish community center and a Jewish assisted living facility in a Kansas City suburb, killing three, including a 14-year-old boy. The suspect, an avowed white supremacist, was charged with first-degree murder. None of the victims was Jewish.

Jan. 25, 2015 Redeemer Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas: The 19-year-old son of the priest of the beat his father and mother to death and fatally stabbed his 5-year-old brother. Isaac Tiharihondi was arrested a short time later and remains in prison.


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