FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Friends and strangers both hurting and
hopeful turned to Scripture on a Saturday "of phenomenal sadness
and mourning" to remember victims cut down in the most sacred of
places -- a house of worship.
The funerals for four of the victims were the first held as a
result of Wednesday night's massacre at Wedgwood Baptist Church.
Gunman Larry Gene Ahsbrook killed seven people before committing
Those mourned were a Sunday school teacher studying to be a
youth minister, a seminary student with a bright smile, a favorite
church soloist who taught inner-city youth and a high school
student who dreamed of owning a film and sound production company.
More than 1,000 people packed a Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary auditorium for the funeral of Shawn Brown, the 23-year-old
Sunday school teacher.
Pastor Al Meredith told those grieving to breathe deeply and
focus on their faith "to get your mind off the pain, and just hang
"Don't expend too much energy trying to understand what
happened ... the other night," said Meredith, who called the
funerals "a day of phenomenal sadness and mourning."
"This is not Shawn Brown," the pastor said, pointing to
Brown's cherry-stained wooden casket. "He's with the Lord today."
Brown was studying at the seminary for his master's degree and
hoped to become a youth minister. He was eulogized as fun-loving
and eager to learn, studying guitar and sign language.
In the rotunda just outside the auditorium, Brown's college
baseball letter jacket was draped over the arms of a chair. His
glove and ball rested in the seat and his empty spikes beneath.
Family photos from happier days surrounded the display.
Dan Biaz, who was best man at Brown's wedding two years ago,
recalled his friend's "almost-mischievious rapid-fire giggle."
"He was always ready to laugh and make you laugh," Biaz said.
Brown's widow, Kathy Jo, said her husband's goal was to immerse
himself in his Baptist faith.
"Shawn ran the race victoriously, all the way to God's arms,"
Susan "Kim" Jones, 23, worked with youth at Wedgwood. She
lived on campus at the seminary where she just recently began
classes after graduating from Texas Christian University. Friends
said she loved missionary work and had a ready smile and a
personality that lit up a room.
Meredith said Ms. Jones led her sorority in Bible study the
night before she was shot.
"We are not angry and we have peace that God is in control,"
said Ms. Jones' mother, Stephanie Jones.
"She was a joy and a
Toward the end of the service, the grieving mother stood and
urged those gathered to "put a smile on our faces."
"Because if you haven't seen her smile, then you've missed
something," she said.
Ms. Jones' white casket was covered with
messages scrawled by family and friends in black marker. One read:
"Let your light so shine," and was signed, "Dad."
Sydney R. Browning, a 1991 seminary graduate, was the children's
choir director at Wedgwood. She also sang in the choir and was a
favored soloist. Friends said she loved to sing old hymns.
The 36-year-old taught at Success High School, a night school on the
Trimble Tech High School campus, where many of her students were
dropouts. She was shot while sitting on a couch in the foyer with a
Justin Ray, 17, is said to have blossomed after transferring to
the Cassata Learning Center, an alternative school with a
self-paced environment. He was a devoted Boy Scout who had
developed an interest in the audiovisual arts and wanted to pursue
a career in film and sound production. He was videotaping the band
and attending to the sound system when gunfire erupted.