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8 Dead in Texas Church Shootings

September 16, 1999 GMT

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) _ A man spouting obscenities and mocking religion walked into a church service for teen-agers Wednesday night, pulled a gun and opened fire, fatally shooting seven before he shot and killed himself in a church pew.

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

The man, using a large-caliber semiautomatic handgun, fatally shot three adults and three teen-agers in the church, and wounded at least eight more before he killed himself, said Lt. David Ellis of the Fort Worth Police Department. The eighth person died in the hospital.

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Seven more were taken to the hospital with shooting injuries, several in extremely critical condition, Ellis said.

Police said they did not have a motive for the shooting. The man appeared to be in his 20s or 30s, police said, but they did not know his identity.

Just after the 7 p.m. shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church, a pipe bomb exploded on a balcony inside the sanctuary, but police did not know of any injuries. A bomb squad was inspecting several suspicious packages found at the church, Ellis said.

Police feared the gunman may have wired himself with explosives, so the local bomb squad and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sent in a robot to search his body for explosives. Authorities have not been able to remove the other bodies from the church because of the possibility of bombs.

About 150 young people were inside the sanctuary after the annual ``See You at the Pole″ gathering at local schools, where students affirm their faith and concern for the problems of society by holding prayer time around their school’s flagpole.

Some witnesses said the man cursed as he fired. Others told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he made demeaning comments about Baptists’ religious beliefs.

``He was very calm and looked normal and was smoking a cigarette,″ witness Christy Martin told KDFW-TV. The man had long hair and a mustache, and wore a black jacket, jeans and a white T-shirt.

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

The dead and injured were shot in the church’s foyer and sanctuary, police said. Shots were also fired in the choir room, but no one was injured there. Police said they are still piecing together the sequence of events.

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Police did not have identities or ages of the dead. Injured were a 12-year-old boy; two women, 17 and 41; and four men, 17, 17, 34, and 38. Their names were not released.

Chris Applegate, a seventh grader, said he was in choir practice when the gunman burst into the room.

``We were singing a song and then in the middle of the song this guy opened the door and fired one shot,″ he said. ``He just kept telling us to stay still.″

``We all just jumped under the benches and he fired about 10 more shots. ... Somebody said, ’Run, run,″ and we all started running,″ Chris said.

While the shooting continued elsewhere in the church, children’s minister Kim Herron led 100 younger children in another room in singing ``Jesus Loves Me.″

The man reloaded several times during the rampage. Three empty gun clips were found at the scene, police said.

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

The first officer on the scene was off-duty police Officer Chip Gillette, who looked out a window to see why his dog was barking. Children, screaming in panic, were streaming from the church.

Gov. George W. Bush said in a statement from Detroit: ``This is a terrible tragedy made worse by the fact that it took place in a house of hope and love. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the congregation.″

The large, red brick church sits in an older neighborhood of modest brick homes. After the shooting, helicopters buzzed overhead and neighbors crowded the sidewalks, watching the chaotic scene as a police bomb squad searched the church.