20 Years After Church Massacre, Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church Hopes to Be ‘Known for More’

A bullet lodged in the spine of a hymnal was among items in a special display on the shootings set up at Wedgwood.(Vernon Bryant / Staff Photographer)

Sniffling and dabbing at her eyes, Tralissa Griffin stood before hundreds of people Sunday and recounted the details of the night that made her church look more like a “war zone.”

She and her husband, David Griffin, returned to the sanctuary where their daughter was one of seven people killed when a gunman opened fire on Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church 20 years ago.

Churchgoers packed the sanctuary for a memorial service that lasted more than two hours at the church in southwest Fort Worth. The service opened with a recording of the police scanner traffic the night of Sept. 15, 1999, in which frantic voices described a gunman shooting at people inside the building.

Tralissa Griffin’s daughter, Cassandra “Cassie” Griffin, had arrived at church with friends that Wednesday for a rally and concert and scrambled up to the second row, she said.

By the end of the night, Cassie’s family had to identify the 14-year-old’s body by the Halloween-themed socks she had been wearing.

“I need to tell you that a black hole fills your heart when someone like this is taken from you so suddenly,” she said at Sunday’s service. “There was a great deal of emptiness, sleeplessness, shock.”

She turned to prayer to cope, she said, finding comfort in how she saw God in “the little details.”

But her husband, David Griffin, told congregants that after the shooting he turned angry and bitter and planned to “fade away” from the church.

“’I don’t get it, God,’” he recalled thinking. “'[Cassie] lived for you, and you let her die in church.’”

One day, he opened Cassie’s Bible to a verse she had annotated: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

Cassie had drawn a line under “without” and a box around the word “fear.” It was a “sacred moment” for her father when he understood that the verse didn’t mean believers would live without harm, but without fear of it, Griffin said at the service.

The memorial service honored Cassie and the six others who were killed: Kristi Beckel, 14; Shawn Brown, 23; Sydney Browning, 36; Joseph “Joey” Ennis, 14; Kim Jones, 23; and Justin “Steggy” Ray, 17. Seven others were wounded in the shooting, and the gunman killed himself.

Kathy Jo Rogers, whose husband, Shawn Brown, was among those killed, said she felt a lump in her throat for the last few weeks as feelings of “weakness and heaviness” resurfaced and the anniversary neared.

She recalled how after the shooting, she couldn’t bring herself to stand to take a shower. So she sat, wishing the water would wash away the tragedy.

Rogers found comfort in her faith — knowing “how the story ends,” she said.

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Source: Dallas Morning News