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Neighbors Say Gunman Was Loner

September 16, 1999

FOREST HILL, Texas (AP) _ Larry Gene Ashbrook was a jobless loner who exposed himself, screamed obscenities and kicked doors during fits of rage, according to his neighbors in the working-class suburb where he spent much of his life.

``It’s the way he looked at you,″ neighbor Venita Hord said Thursday. ``I was scared of him.″

In Fort Worth on Wednesday, Ashbrook, 47, shot seven people to death at a prayer meeting in a Baptist church before sitting down in a pew and killing himself.

On Thursday, investigators were picking through his modest, wood-frame house, which he had ransacked by breaking holes in the walls, pouring concrete in the toilets, overturning furniture and slicing up family photos, said Bob Garrity, FBI special agent in charge.

Old journals revealed that he was very disturbed and particularly upset about his difficulty in finding and keeping a job, the agent said.

``I think he was just somebody who was a social outcast,″ 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.″

Neighbors said Ashbrook never married or had children, and had peculiar habits like leaving home for an hour each morning carrying a blue canvas bag.

Elderly residents would retreat into their homes when Ashbrook walked down the street, intimidated by his menacing appearance. He invariably opened and closed doors to houses and cars with violent kicks.

He also became more erratic after his mother died nine years ago.

``Before she died, Larry still had it together. After she died, he went mental,″ said Karen Ivey, a neighbor for 19 years.

Ashbrook lived for many years with his father, Jack D. Ashbrook, who died two months ago at age 85. Jack Ashbrook, a retired railroad switchman, was a longtime member of Pleasant Ridge Church of Christ, but his son did not attend, said Bill Pullen, a senior minister.

Pullen described Ashbrook’s father as ``salt of the earth″ and ``a kind and gentle person″ who missed his late wife but enjoyed fellowship at the church. He never met Ashbrook or his older three siblings.

Across the street from the Ashbrooks’ home, longtime neighbors said they saw Larry Ashbrook push his father down more than once, but did not call police because they feared retaliation.

``I figured if his father would put up with him, it wasn’t any of our business,″ Jack Hord said.

Added Mrs. Hord: ``We should have called the law on him.″

Mrs. Hord recalled meeting with her neighbors in her front yard four or five years ago. Ashbrook, believing the neighbors were talking about him, exposed himself and screamed obscenities, she said.

Another neighbor, Earl L. Thomason, remembered Ashbrook as a friend of his younger son’s. He would come over to borrow a tool or visit.

``Once or twice I’d have it about mowed and he’d come over and finish it for me or something like that,″ Thomason said. ``He was just a neighbor.″

Thomason said Ashbrook joined the Navy after attending O.D. Wyatt High School, at the same time his own son joined the Army in 1971. The young men didn’t spend much time together after that.

Navy officials confirmed Ashbrook was an enlisted sailor, but they had no other information.

Linda McConn, who has lived in Ashbrook’s neighborhood since 1961, was a high school classmate of the gunman’s sister. She always though Ashbrook was 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.″

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