Tag: tragic deaths

Beside Stillwater: Campus ministry helps Oklahoma State heal


Beside Stillwater (reporting from Stillwater, Okla.): Campus ministry helps Oklahoma State heal.

STILLWATER, Okla. — Campus minister Matt Mills heard the sirens, but he had no idea of the extent of the tragedy.

On football Saturdays in this college town, the Church of Christ University Center at Oklahoma State University organizes a pregame tailgate party. Students involved with the “UC at OK State” enjoy burgers and soft drinks. Guys bring cookies. The girls? Chips.

As Mills prepared for the party after Oklahoma State’s homecoming parade Oct. 24, friends and family began texting and calling.

Are you OK?” they wanted to know.

A woman had crashed her car into a crowd assembled to watch the parade, killing four people and injuring more than 45. The disaster occurred just four blocks from the UC at OK State, a ministry of the Stillwater Church of Christ.

As Mills grasped the news, four of his own students showed up. The two male and two female students had witnessed the crash up close. They were physically fine but emotionally shaken.

“The car went right in front of us probably about 5 feet or so,” said senior Ryan Watson, who grew up in the Draketown Church of Christ in Huntsville, Ark. “We heard the impact … and screams.”

Immediately, Mills and women’s minister Elyse Tharp formed a prayer circle with Watson, his three friends and a few other students.

“We talked and prayed for an hour,” said Mills, whose contribution to helping the campus of 26,000 students heal was just beginning.

This story appears in the December 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Modern-day Job preaching again


Modern-day Job preaching again (reporting from Ridgeland, Miss.): After the murders of his wife and son, Mississippi minister Les Ferguson Jr. wrestled with God.

RIDGELAND, Miss. — Les Ferguson Jr. couldn’t help but scream at God.

Why — the longtime minister demanded to know — didn’t the Almighty protect his wife and son from the predator who murdered them?

In his darkest days, Ferguson couldn’t imagine ever trusting in the Lord again, much less proclaiming the Gospel before a crowd of saints and sinners in a tree-shaded church building.

Yet on a recent Sunday, that’s exactly where he stood — preaching on faith and doubt at the Lake Harbour Drive Church of Christ, a racially diverse congregation north of the state capital of Jackson.

“True confession time: There were mighty dark days,” Ferguson told the 211 souls who filled the pews. “There were nights of questioning and wondering. There were days and nights, hour upon hour of screaming at God until I completely lost my voice and couldn’t say another word.”

But with the Lake Harbour Drive church, the modern-day Job has found his voice again and revived his calling.

This story appears in the mid-December 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Tragic Sunday: Kentucky church elder, wife, daughter shot to death

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Tragic Sunday: Kentucky church elder, wife, daughter shot to death: Authorities allege the couple’s son enlisted a fourth victim as a hitman on his family, then killed him. 

On a recent Sunday morning, elder Lindsey Champion and his wife, Joy, worshiped, as always, with the Cadiz Church of Christ in western Kentucky.

Preacher Randall Evans visited with them and shook their hands after the 10 a.m. assembly Oct. 26.

“It was actually a great day,” Evans told The Christian Chronicle. “The sun was shining. The sky was blue. We had a great Bible class.”

But before noon, the couple and their adult daughter, Emily Champion, were found shot to death at the family’s rural home, Kentucky State Police Trooper Jay Thomas said.

Authorities believe the elder’s son, Ryan Champion, 36, enlisted a fourth victim, Vito Riservato, 22, as a hitman, then killed him.

This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Fertilizer plant explosion rocks Texas church


Explosion rocks Texas church: After a deadly blast at a fertilizer plant owned by a church elder, West Church of Christ members rely on faith, prayer and fellow Christians (reporting from West, Texas). Page 1 lead.

WEST, Texas — The auditorium lights flickered.

The glass doors flew open.

West Church of Christ minister Ernie Albrecht was sharing Wednesday night devotional thoughts — focused on Ezekiel and the need for Christians to stand up and be strong in their faith — when a loud boom rocked the pews.

“For a moment, I thought, ‘Man, Jesus is coming!’” Albrecht said later. “It was a scary moment because it was like, ‘This may be it.’”

Albrecht finished his remarks, and deacon Shorty Harkins — who brushed off the noise as thunder — stood to lead the invitation song, “There Is Power in the Blood.”

Harkins had asked elder Donald Adair, an 83-year-old farmer and owner of the West Fertilizer Co., to say the closing prayer.

But in the dark auditorium, Harkins did not realize Adair had received a phone call a few minutes earlier and quickly left. Unknown to the congregation, Adair had learned that the fertilizer plant had caught fire.

“Oh, no!” a few members had heard Adair’s wife, Wanda, mutter on the way out.

Outside the church building, a giant plume of smoke filled the still-bright sky — the result of a massive explosion at Adair’s fertilizer plant that killed 15 people and wounded more than 200.

“It kind of looked like a mushroom cloud,” said Harkins, a longtime resident of this north-central Texas town of 2,800, known for its Czech culture and kolache pastry shops. “It was about a mile and a half over there to it.”

Boston Marathon bombings: Church of Christ minister pays tribute to slain MIT officer. Second Front.

Sin, snoring and sermons: What to say to the preacher. Inside Story.

This post highlights my stories in the June 2013 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

‘God didn’t do this’: Minister grieves slain wife, son

God didn’t do this’: Minister grieves slain wife, son. Page 1.

In the midst of unimaginable tragedy, Les Ferguson Jr.’s faith survives.

“God didn’t do this,” said Ferguson, preaching minister for the Orange Grove Church of Christ in Gulfport, Miss. “This was just evil.”

Even as he clings to God, Ferguson can’t help but weep as he mourns his wife, Karen, and son Cole, 21, who were shot to death in the family’s home Oct. 10.

“They were just beautiful people,” Ferguson said. “My son struggled his whole life with disabilities. He was frustrated and hurt a lot, but he was a good boy. He wanted to do right, and he loved God. He loved to sing, even if nobody else understood what he was saying.”

Karen Brown Ferguson, 44, was “just the best mama and wife you could ever want,” the minister added. “She sacrificed her whole life for everybody around her. She did it again. I really believe she could have saved herself.”

The suspect in the double-homicide — Paul Ellis Buckman — died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his apartment about two miles away, Gulfport police Capt. Craig Petersen said.

In Big Sky country, three congregations merge as members heal old wounds (reporting from Helena, Mont.). Page 1.

Finding hope in a red door: Salt, light and housing for inner city (reporting from Oklahoma City). Inside Story.

Minister’s slaying, wife’s arrest deal double tragedy


Minister’s slaying, wife’s arrest deal double tragedy (reporting from Selmer, Tenn.). Page 1.

Tornadoes kill family, destroy members’ homes in three states. Page 1.

Sojourners travel country serving God (reporting from Greenwood, Texas). Inside Story.

From hurricanes to tornadoes, relief group delivers record aid. National.

Parents, brothers keep boy’s dream alive (reporting from Riverhead, N.Y.). Profile.

Texas town prepares for long day of funerals

October 16, 2003, Thursday, BC cycle
Texas town prepares for long day of funerals

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 719 words


This grieving West Texas town will overflow with tears Friday as seven of the eight senior citizens killed in a church bus crash are laid to rest.

Three of the five funerals set for Friday – including combined services for two married couples – will be at the First Baptist Church. Five of those killed in the bus wreck in Louisiana on Monday attended the church.

“It’s just going to be beyond words,” said Ray Don McIntosh, minister of the nearby Mertzon Highway Church of Christ, which is joining other churches in town to provide food and baby-sitting for the services.

For many in this close-knit community of 2,000, the pain seems almost too much to bear.

“Everyone’s still in shock. They still can’t quite grasp what it’s all about,” said Shine Spigarelli, 81, who was born in this dusty town that depends on farming, ranching and gas production.

A small rodeo arena and a green city limits sign showing the population as 1,951 greet visitors along U.S. Highway 277, the main two-lane road through town.

The First Baptist Church, which has a 100-year-old congregation and a yellow-brick sanctuary and stained-glass windows, is off the highway. But its tall white steeple makes it hard to miss.

Inside the church, children’s drawings on a bulletin board depict large crosses surrounded by clouds. Each cloud contains the name of someone who died in the crash.

“If you love God, you will pray for the people that are in the clouds,” a child wrote in magic marker.

A few blocks away, at Duckwall’s Hometown Variety Store, manager Dawn Fay chokes back tears and reflects on the deaths of friends and customers.

They were loved ones who – along with the rest of the community – came to her family’s rescue when their house burned down two years ago.

“They replaced everything. They set up accounts at the bank for us,” the single mother of four said. “It’s just, anytime anything happens to anyone in town, everybody gets together and helps them out. We’re basically one big family.”

The church group left Eldorado on Sunday, excited about a 16-day tour of national historic sites. Monday morning, the bus slammed into a cotton-hauling tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of Interstate 20 in Tallulah, La.

The bus driver, Kenneth J. Thomas, a 66-year-old deacon at the church, survived and told investigators he fell asleep at the wheel, Louisiana state police said.

“I feel for him deeply,” Fay said. “I just can’t imagine what he’s going through, having to live with this for the rest of his life.”

First Baptist Church members whose services were planned at the church Friday were Domingo Pina, 65; his wife, Delia Pina, 72; Kennith Richardson, 81; his wife, Betty A. Richardson, 81; and Mary Ruth Robinson, 63. Robinson’s husband, James W. Robinson, survived the crash.

The three other victims were friends of church members: Jean S. Demere, 74, of Water Valley; LaVerne Shannon, 76, of San Angelo; and Jimmy D. Teele, 68, of Water Valley.

Church bells chimed and more than 300 mourners sang “How Great Thou Art” and “I Come To Tell The Story” at a memorial service for Demere on Thursday at First Presbyterian Church in San Angelo, about 40 miles north of Eldorado.

Services for Shannon will be Friday at St. Luke Methodist Church in San Angelo. Teele’s funeral will be Friday at First United Methodist Church in Water Valley.

While the Rev. Andy Anderson of First Baptist Church prepared to deliver eulogies for five people in one day, Sheriff David Doran, a 40-year-old lifelong resident of Eldorado, focused on traffic and parking plans. He also tried to keep his emotions in check.

“Anytime we lose a member of the community, we mourn because we know them,” he said. “In this case, this bus accident represented our community. We had retired teachers, farmers, postal workers … and they’re the elders of our community.”

The closeness of the community makes dealing with the tragedy all the more difficult.

“Everyone’s just very sad,” said Gene McCalla, 84, who has lived here since 1939 and volunteered with four of the victims to help children improve their reading skills.

McCalla said he has no doubt Eldorado will overcome.

“That’s just the way we are,” he said. “We just go about our business. But if somebody needs help, we’re there.”