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Texas Shooting Victims Mourned

September 16, 1999

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ Hours after a gunman opened fire in the sanctuary of Wedgwood Baptist Church, pastor Al Meredith was in the morgue standing over the body of one of his congregants.

Authorities had asked Meredith to identify Susan ``Kim″ Jones, but the pastor said he found it difficult to recognize the 23-year-old woman he remembered as a warm, exuberant seminary student.

``I couldn’t be sure it was her because she wasn’t smiling,″ Meredith said. ``She just beamed. There are people who walk into a room and it lights up.″

Ms. Jones was one of seven people killed by Larry Gene Ashbrook, 47, who entered a church service for teen-agers Wednesday evening and opened fire before turning the gun on himself.

Also killed were choir director Sydney Browning, 36; seminary student Shawn Brown, 23; Justin M. Ray, 17; and Kristi Beckel, Joseph D. Ennis and Cassandra Griffin, all 14.

Seven others were wounded, and three were in serious condition Thursday.

``These people 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,″ Meredith said.

The grief was particularly pronounced at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Brewer High School, both of which had students caught in the tragedy.

Ennis was a freshman at Brewer, where he played on the basketball team. Justin Laird, a sophomore junior varsity football player who was celebrating his 16th birthday Wednesday, was shot in the back. He was in serious condition Thursday.

Brewer athletic director Ben Davis praised both Ennis and Laird as hard workers and ``fine young men.″ He said students and teachers were struggling to come to terms with the loss.

``Two of the safest environments you think you can put your child in are the school and the church,″ Davis said. ``You think you don’t have to worry about their safety. When that’s violated, it’s really upsetting.″

Ms. Browning was a 1991 graduate of the seminary, while Ms. Jones and Brown were both students.

Meredith praised Ms. Browning’s tireless efforts in social work programs, saying ``she defined commitment.″ In addition to serving as the children’s choir director, Ms. Browning was an honored teacher in the Fort Worth Independent School District.

``She was a very warm and talented individual and a gifted singer,″ said Derick Wilson, a seminary student. ``She’s going to be sadly missed.″

Ms. Jones and Brown both enjoyed working with youths, and they hoped to continue that work after they left the seminary, Meredith said.

Ms. Jones graduated from Texas Christian University last year, and had recently become the leader of a Bible study class for teen-agers.

Brown taught Sunday school classes at Wedgwood with his wife, Kathy.

``Shawn was on fire for God,″ said Connie Yeagley, another seminary student. ``He was the type of person that when you were around him, you walked away with a smile.″

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