COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Two teenage sisters were killed and others were wounded by a gunman at New Life Church in Colorado Springs about 12 hours after someone shot four staff members at a Youth With a Mission training facility in the area, killing two. Police are investigating whether the shootings are connected.
Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where a gunman walked into the church and killed seven people eight years ago, told Baptist Press his first thought upon hearing the news in Colorado was, "Here we go again."
"It just seems as though violence has become pandemic in our society. Last week it was a shopping mall in Omaha," Meredith said. "This week it's two churches in Colorado. Last spring it was an academic hall at Virginia Tech. Our society is becoming more and more dangerous for people in places that we used to think were relatively safe, and of course they're not."
Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachael Works, 16, were killed by a gunman Sunday morning, Dec. 9, at New Life. Their father, David Works, 51, suffered two gunshot wounds to the stomach and groin and is listed in fair condition, Brady Boyd, pastor of the church founded by Ted Haggard, said Dec. 10.
"You can imagine as parents losing two children while coming to church," Boyd said. "I'm asking Colorado Springs and the country, please pray for that family because they're going through a hard time."
At a Youth With a Mission dormitory in Arvada around 12:30 a.m., a man in his 20s had been inside for about 30 minutes, talking with youth who were training to be missionaries, and he asked to spend the night in the building.
When Tiffany Johnson, 26, the facility's hospitality coordinator, told the man she could not allow an unauthorized person to sleep there, he pulled out a handgun and shot her and another staff member, 24-year-old Philip Crouse, killing them both, according to The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs.
About 30 minutes after the 11 a.m. service had let out at New Life and about 7,000 people were leaving, a gunman fired into the crowd with a rifle, starting with a van in the parking lot and then moving into the church's vestibule, The Gazette said. Church officials had increased security on campus once they heard of the YWAM shooting, and a plainclothes female security guard shot and killed the gunman.
"There was a courageous staff member who probably saved many lives here today," Colorado Springs Police Chief Richard Myers said.
Police spent hours searching the campus as church members sought refuge in a basement according to a preset plan for violence that staff members had implemented. It was not known at the time whether there was an additional shooter.
Along with the Works family, Judy Purcell, 40, suffered a gunshot wound to the right shoulder at New Life and Larry Bourbannais, 59, was wounded on the left forearm. Both were treated at the hospital and released, The Gazette said.
At the Arvada chapter of Youth With a Mission, Dan Griebenow, 24, was shot and is in critical condition, and Charlie Blanch, 22, also was shot and is in stable condition.
Meredith, Wedgwood's pastor, told BP he led his congregation in prayer for New Life and Youth With a Mission Sunday evening.
"We just prayed for them as people prayed for us, that God would give grace to the survivors to hang on, that God would bring healing to those who were wounded and grace to the doctors who were operating on people in critical condition, and that somehow the Lord's name would be honored in all of this," Meredith said.
Having been in a similar situation, Meredith had some advice for how people in the local community and around the nation might respond to the tragedies.
"Resist the urge to have words of wisdom to make sense out of it all. That's one thing, because platitudes do more harm than good," he said. "Just pray for them and encourage them and write a letter or note or an e-mail or something, some kind of response just to tell them you're praying for them.
"When the tragedy happened to us eight years ago, we got over 20,000 cards and letters and 13,000 e-mails. What we did for a month afterwards, we wallpapered our hallways with these cards and letters. When we walked in, we felt the presence and the prayers of the body of Christ around the world," Meredith said.
With a desire to prevent such calamity in the future, Wedgwood members have thought about what they would do in case of various emergencies.
"We've got evacuation plans and lockdown plans, especially for the children, so that if there's a threat of fire or tornado or a gunman, we lock off certain sections of the church," Meredith said. "But we don't have armed security guards in the area, though we ask our police officers to wear their uniforms when they come to church just as a visible presence to deter that kind of thing."
Jimell Badry, a church administrator and music minister at First Baptist Church in Black Forest, about eight miles from New Life Church, told Baptist Press he received news of the shootings around 1:30 Sunday afternoon and began making plans to protect his congregation during the evening service.
"We didn't have much information and not even that the perpetrator was caught or had been killed," Badry said. "There was a rumor of an accomplice, so I immediately called our chairman of deacons and had him call the deacons he could get ahold of to make sure they were going to be here last night."
The city of Colorado Springs had asked that all churches in the area having services Sunday evening observe a lockdown procedure, Badry said. First Baptist, with about 500 people attending each week, was expecting a large crowd that night for the church's Christmas program.
Badry said the church posted men in the parking lot and at least two men stood at each entrance, letting people in one by one or family by family. The church had sent an e-mail to church members earlier in the day, assuring them that every precaution would be taken to protect them that evening.
"Everybody seems to be on the alert, and churches are so vulnerable. We were on the alert in every way, but we figured that we cannot let people determine whether we're going to have church or not -- within reason," Badry said. "It's the kind of world we live in. We just have to be more on the alert and at the same time not allow people of that mindset to control what we do as Christians."
First Baptist prayed for New Life after the Christmas program, and Badry said the church has made known to New Life that they're available to help in any way. Several members of First Baptist have close friends at New Life, Badry said.
Meredith said the shootings should remind believers of their primary duties."I'd like to encourage the body of Christ ... to take every opportunity to lift up Jesus because it's the only hope we've got," he said.