Minister shocked by church shooting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 1999

Natchez Youth Minister, Dan Ratcliff had reason to worry when a Fort Worth resident wasn’t answering her phone last week.

His friend, Sydney Browning, was among seven people killed Sept. 15, during a shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church.

&uot;The day after it happened I was calling her,&uot; said Ratcliff, of First Baptist Church of Natchez.

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Another friend later told him the news.

&uot;When he said &uot;Syndey Browning&uot; I just couldn’t believe it,&uot; Ratcliff said.

Ratcliff attended Wedgwood while a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

With his personal ties to the church, the shooting had a strong impact on Ratcliff.

I was as shocked as (anybody) else who had been there that night it happened,&uot; Ratcliff said.

On Sept. 15, Larry Gene Ashbrook, 47, a jobless loner, came into a teenage service at Wedgwood, pulled a gun and opened fire. Seven people were killed, and seven others were injured.

Ashbrook then killed himself in a rear pew.

Ratcliff said his connection to the church made him want to learn as much about the shooting as possible.

&uot;I was flipping (channels) trying to get as much news as possible,&uot; Ratcliff said. &uot;I kept looking for people I knew.&uot;

Ashbrook, who lived in the vicinity of the church, also rolled a homemade pipe bomb down an aisle at one point. It exploded but did not harm anyone.

That night, about 400 teenagers from around Fort Worth were at Wedgwood for a special service.

Police have not found any specific clues as to why Ashbrook targeted this group or church.

‘We don’t believe he was targeting teenagers that night,&uot; Ratcliff said. &uot;He passed other churches on the way.&uot;

Since Hurricane Floyd threatened the East Coast last week, Ratcliff thinks the shooting did not get as much attention as might be expected. This made it even harder to find out news about the church.

Ratcliff finally began searching the Internet for details. He also gathered quotes said by other pastors after the shooting.

&uot;I hope I’ll never need a sermon like that,&uot; Ratcliff said.

The Rev. Gary Nunn, First Baptist Church of Vidalia is also a former member of Wedgwood Baptist.

His feelings mirror Ratcliff’s.

&uot;Complete amazement,&uot; Nunn said. &uot;There is nothing in that neighborhood that would give an indication that would happen.&uot;

He also said the hurricane made it difficult to get details on the shooting.

&uot;I think sometimes I’ve been critical in the past of the media for all the hype that surrounds (shootings),&uot; Nunn said. &uot;I think when you have have a connection, it makes you a little more aware, of wanting to gain that information.&uot;

Ratcliff went to Fort Worth last week to attend Browning’s funeral. Despite the tragedy, he said the funeral was the most inspirational he had ever attended.

The service included videotapes and recordings featuring Browning.

&uot;I’d never been to a funeral were a person that died was singing at her own funeral,&uot; he said. &uot;It was an hour and 40 minute funeral service and I didn’t look at my watch once.&uot;