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Wedgewood Baptist Church Shooting in Fort Worth, Texas

September 16, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT
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SPENCER MICHELS: One hundred fifty teenagers were singing hymns at the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth last night when a gunman burst in the door and opened fire on them. Police have now identified the man as 47-year-old Larry Ashbrook, who authorities described as chronically unemployed and very troubled. The assailant emptied three ammunition clips from a nine-millimeter semiautomatic handgun. He reportedly shouted anti-religious, anti-Baptist curses as he fired. Seven people died, four teenagers and three adults. Seven more were wounded. Ashbrook then went into a back pew at the church and took his own life.

REPORTER: Did you see him shoot himself? What did he do? Describe what he did.

GIRL: He put it to his head and he -

SPENCER MICHELS: The church’s pastors spoke about the tragedy today.

REV. AL MEREDITH, Pastor, Wedgewood Baptist Church: These people were Sunday school teachers and … one of the favorite soloists in the church … the children’s choir director … kids, youth members … some active, some just getting active, some just beginning to find God … and adults … our hearts are broken.

SPENCER MICHELS: This afternoon, President Clinton said the nation must do more to protect its children.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yet again, we have seen a sanctuary violated by gun violence, taking children brimming with faith and promise and hope before their time. Our nation’s support and prayers are with the families of the victims, those still suffering in the hospital, and the entire Fort Worth community. Federal law enforcement officials are now working with state officials and local authorities to find all the answers. But we know we have to redouble our efforts to protect our children. We know we have to act as if it were our own children being targeted by gun violence. We know that there is nothing we can do to assure that this will never happen, but there is a lot more we can do to assure that it will happen more rarely; and I can only hope that the shock of this event will spur that kind of action.

SPENCER MICHELS: Early today police searched Ashbrook’s home in the Fort Worth suburb of Forest Hill. They found some old diaries but nothing that provided a motive for the crime. Ashbrook’s house had been virtually destroyed, with holes in the walls and furniture up-ended. At a press conference at Fort Worth this afternoon authorities said they don’t understand why their community is the latest hit by violence.

MAYOR KENNETH BARR, Fort Worth, Texas: This is a tragic occurrence. We’ve discussed things like this over the past few months at the city in light of the tragedies that have occurred in other parts of the country. But, frankly, there’s no way the city government, or anyone, for that matter, can prepare for this kind of catastrophe. I recall the statement being made repeatedly – this could happen anywhere. Well, I assure you as of yesterday evening anywhere took on a whole new meaning for those of us here in Fort Worth.

SPENCER MICHELS: Police said they still can’t explain why the gunman attacked the church full of young people.

RALPH MENDOZA, Acting Police Chief, Forth Worth, Texas: We’re still piecing who the gunman is as we speak. We have managed to check a little bit in regards to him, as far as whether he has been admitted into the county hospital, which would be John Peter Smith. We find nothing significant in regards to any types of mental issues, other than normal health-related types of issues.

SPENCER MICHELS: Late today, the police added some more detail to Ashbrook’s background.

RALPH MENDOZA: What may have driven him over the edge is that approximately two months ago we believe that his father died. His father was a person that supported him; that’s who he lived with. When the father died, the support pretty much stopped, of course, and he was unable, from our perspective, to hold down a full-time job.

SPENCER MICHELS: Memorial services are expected to be held for the victims later this week.