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Police Search Home of Texas Gunman

September 16, 1999

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ Police today searched the trashed home of a man who spewed anti-Baptist rhetoric as he fired on a church service, finding concrete-laden toilets and tattered family photos, but no clues to what drove him to his deadly rampage.

Seven people were fatally shot Wednesday night before 47-year-old Larry Gene Ashbrook killed himself in a pew at the Wedgwood Baptist Church. Seven others were wounded, three seriously.

Ashbrook was carrying a 9mm semiautomatic handgun and a .380-caliber handgun, pausing during Wednesday night’s attack to reload, police Chief Ralph Mendoza said. He used three clips in all, and investigators found six loaded 9mm clips in his jacket pocket.

Ashbrook also rolled a pipe bomb down an aisle, but it exploded without injuring anyone.

``It looked like a skit, it looked like something out of a movie,″ said Bethany Williams, 16, her eyes red with tears and her green crocheted purse splattered with blood. ``And I thought it was a fake gun making fake noises.″

Ashbrook had no known police record. He acted alone, and there was no indication that he knew anyone at the Southern Baptist church, Mendoza said.

No note explaining the shooting was found on Ashbrook or at his home about a 10-minute drive from the church.

Nor were any clues found in several years-old journals discovered in the house, which Ashbrook had shared with his father until the older man’s death in July, said the FBI’s Robert Garrity.

``I don’t know that we’ll ever know the answer to the question of why it happened,″ Garrity said. ``It may just be an enigma for a long time.″

Ashbrook apparently wrecked the house before heading to the church. Investigators this morning found overturned furniture, holes in walls, concrete poured down toilets and family photos hacked to pieces.

``He virtually destroyed the interior of his house,″ Garrity said. ``This has the appearance of being a very troubled man, who, for whatever reason in his own mind, sought to quiet whatever demons that bothered him.″

The shootings happened during a service for teen-agers at the large, red brick church on the southwest side of the city. More than 150 people were in the building.

Witnesses said the teens were in the sanctuary when the gunman, wearing a black jacket, jeans and a white T-shirt, arrived.

``He hits the door real hard to make his presence known and he just immediately started firing,″ said Dan Hughes, the church’s college minister.

Witnesses told police Ashbrook cursed and made derogatory comments about the Baptist religion as he walked around.

City spokesman Pat Svacina said shortly after the shooting began, Ashbrook rolled a pipe bomb down an aisle toward the front of the sanctuary. The bomb exploded but caused no injuries.

``At that point, the kids and the adults that were in there apparently began realizing that this was not the normal situation,″ Svacina said. ``The kids began hiding. We’ve been told that as the kids were scrambling for cover and moving around, that shots were being fired.″

Witness Christy Martin told KDFW-TV: ``He was very calm and looked normal and was smoking a cigarette.″

When the gunfire was over, Hughes said, the gunman ``sat in the back pew and put a gun (to his head) and shot himself and fell over.″

Authorities, fearing Ashbrook may have wired himself with explosives, sent in a robot to search his body, but found nothing.

Three adults and three teen-agers died inside the church. A 14-year-old girl died early today.

Pastor Al Meredith said the victims ``were Sunday school teachers and one of the favored soloists in the church, the children’s choir director, kids, youth members, some active, some just getting active, some just beginning to find God.″

Ashbrook apparently had lived alone since the death of his 85-year-old father, Jack, who was described in his obituary as a charter member of Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ.

Linda McConn, who has lived in Ashbrook’s neighborhood since 1961 and was a high school classmate of his sister, viewed Ashbrook as a harmless eccentric.

``I always saw him driving around in his father’s old Chevy,″ Ms. McConn said. ``We always just kind of thought he was kind of useless.″

The nation’s latest shooting rampage also prompted Clinton administration officials to renew calls for tighter curbs on handguns.

``In 1999 alone,″ Attorney General Janet Reno said, ``we have watched as innocent people were gunned down while attending school, while walking home from a church or synagogue, while playing at a summer camp, while working in their offices, while delivering mail and now while worshiping in their church.″

Gov. George W. Bush cut short a presidential campaign trip in Michigan to return to Texas and ``add some comfort.″

``It’s hard to explain how somebody would have enough hatred in their heart to walk into a church where people are seeking God’s guidance and shoot them,″ he said with tears in his eyes.

Meredith said he hoped to have the church cleared for use by the weekend.

``It is my heart’s desire that if the investigation gets cleared up, somehow, some way we can worship God in this facility Sunday morning,″ he said. ``Our heart’s desire is that the king of darkness will not prevail over the kingdom of light.″