Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Remembering Shawn Brown
And I remembered.
September 15, 1999. The "See You At The Pole" movement had begun in Burleson, Texas, a few years earlier. As the school year began, the call went out for Christian students to meet at the flagpole on a certain Wednesday morning, taking a stand, praying for their school, their friends and teachers. "Standing up for Jesus". It had become a strong, well-attended event for Christian kids, especially in and around Fort Worth, where we lived. In the shadow of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where my kids' dad was working on his Master's Degree, events like this one received strong support from the community, the parents and the kids.
As SYATP gained momentum, pre- and post-pole gatherings became popular. In 1999, local churches planned to gather on that Wednesday evening to celebrate at Wedgwood Baptist Church with a rally, a cool Christian band and some typical Texas youth ministry fun.
Sarah was eight years old that year. Her kindergarten teacher from a previous year, Kathy Brown, was active at Wedgwood Baptist and excited to come by early to pick up Sarah and Shannon so that they could participate in SYATP at our neighborhood elementary school. This was a bit unusual, as this was an older youth event, but Kathy's husband Shawn was a Southwestern student, a youth ministry leader at Wedgwood and crazy about his wife and her students. They babysat Sarah and Shannon for us on a few occasions (David was born in June of that year, and we had a full house, with five kids aged eight and under. We needed help!)
Shawn and Kathy took the girls to pray at the flagpole that morning. I was so proud of my kids, and they were excited to be part of something that the "big kids" did.
That night, we went to church as usual. For some reason, Lonnie had elected not to participate in the regional rally at Wedgwood. He led youth ministry at Southcliff Baptist church, and he decided to keep our students there rather than take them - and his wife and kids - to Wedgwood. I dropped off the older kids and ran a quick errand, since I had no Wednesday evening responsibilities at that time.
I heard the sirens, saw the fire trucks. Saw the mass confusion on the streets all around the neighborhood. I returned to our church and quickly began to hear news reports of a shooting.
In a church.
Shawn Brown died that night, along with six other people. Our neighbors. Larry Gene Ashbrook went to Wedgwood with a hatred for Baptist churches and a desire to do harm, and he did so. He walked into the church and began shooting. Shawn was the first one he hit.
I remember staying up late, watching the chaos of the news reports, repeatedly calling Shawn and Kathy, trying to figure out if they were safe. Realizing, with numbing horror, that they were not.
To this day, Sarah keeps a snapshot of Shawn beside her bed. That event marked her in ways that she couldn't understand then. I'm not sure any of us understand today. It was my first brush with the pain wrought by evil and the shocking realization that church was not necessarily safe.
I was naive.
My "See You At The Pole" commemoration is not in front of a school. Today, I remember Shawn and six others who stood at their flagpoles eleven years ago, and then died at the hands of someone who hated everything they stood for.