Wedgwood Church Marks 10th Anniversary of Fatal Shooting

Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, opened its worship center all day Tuesday for prayer, music, and video remembrances to mark the tenth anniversary of fatal shooting that had left seven people dead.

Special services had been held two days earlier in recognition of the day Larry Gene Ashbrook walked into Wedgwood and fired over 100 rounds from two different handguns before taking his own life.

When the shooting took place, youth were gathered in the sanctuary for a "Saw You at the Pole" rally. In the end, seven were wounded and eight more were dead – including Ashbrook.

Though the tragedy is forever etched into the hearts and minds of the Fort Worth community, Wedgwood members have been moving on, embracing one another and also embracing the family of the shooter, who were just as shocked after the incident took place.

"They expressed to us so many times how sorry they were that it happened and we told them we don't hold anything against them," church member Jeff Laster told the local KDAF-TV news station.

"It wasn't their fault and we've really grown to love them over the years," said Laster, who was the first person Ashbrook had shot ten years ago.

Then, there's the Rev. Al Meredith, Wedgwood's pastor, who has not only been spending the past ten years healing wounds within his church, but also helping to heal the wounds of those elsewhere.

Since the shooting ten years ago, Meredith has shared about the shooting with people outside Wedgwood more than 100 times. He comforted people after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech shootings.

Earlier this year, Meredith spoke to a congregation in Maryville, Ill., whose pastor was fatally shot during a service.

"It is not that I love talking about it," the self-described "guru of grief" told the Fort Worth Star Telegram. "My whole reason for living is to glorify God by ministering to people."

"It is an honor to be able to minister to people when their hearts are breaking and to bring hope and healing," he added.

Since the Wedgwood shooting, more congregations have taken measures to improve safety by adopting professional security standards, including the hiring of trained security guards, extensive use of surveillance cameras, and training of staff to engage anyone acting unusual.

According to Jeffrey Hawkins, founder and executive director of the Christian Security Network, however, more than 75 percent of congregations in the United States are still unprepared for a security emergency.

"Security is extremely misunderstood in the Christian community," Hawkins said. "Christian leaders really need to understand that incidents like this could happen in any congregation, but also, how easily – with the right information and planning – security can be integrated into their world."

In its mid-year report, released July, the Christian Security Network reported 17 shootings and similar incidences of violence against Christian organizations in America.

In an online poll earlier this year, the organization also found that over 63 percent of Christian church attendees do not feel that their church is prepared to handle an emergency situation.

Currently, as Hawkins points out, the U.S. State Department classifies faith-based organizations as one of the top five "at risk" groups in the world today.