She wrote the e-mail in the middle of the night. She couldn't sleep. The panic was back.
Littleton in April.
Conyers, Ga., in May.
Southfield, Mich., in June.
Atlanta in July.
Los Angeles in August.
And now, in September, Fort Worth. A quiet neighborhood, a pretty church, a warm Wednesday evening, a hundred young people in the sanctuary, and one gunman suddenly in the back, firing. She watched TV, glued. Seven dead. Seven wounded. She went from Web site to Web site for updates, and then, long past midnight, she sent her thoughts to a church that would receive thousands of messages in the days ahead, all of which would be posted for people to look at as they tried to make sense of the shootings.
"I am writing to tell you that your church, as well as all the church families, are in my prayers" is how hers began.
And maybe the people reading it noticed the time of night it was sent.
And maybe, noting the time, they sensed the urgency with which it was written.
And maybe, sensing the urgency, or perhaps even the panic, they kept reading until they got to the most instructive sentence of all, 19 years and 85 days in the making, which said, "As a survivor of a church shooting much like yours, I know what a long, hard road is ahead of you."
The survivor: Margie Forrest, 46, of Daingerfield, Tex., who was one of 300 people in the sanctuary of Daingerfield's First Baptist Church on June 22, 1980, when a man armed with two handguns, two assault rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition burst in through the back doors, killing five people and wounding 10.
So many years later, shootings with multiple victims occur so frequently they no longer surprise. The number of such shootings--some involving strangers, others involving known people such as family members--averages two a month, according to Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University. That number hasn't varied significantly since the year of the Daingerfield shooting, but what he calls the "quality" of them has. "The body counts are up. There are more teenagers doing the shooting. There are more revenge killings: 'It's the blacks.' 'It's the Jews.' 'It's the women.' 'It's the day traders.' 'It's my boss.' "
The result of this, Levin says, has been a progressively desensitized public, which means "we have a mass killing and move on to the next one. In some ways we have become desensitized because we're getting used to mass killings as a way of life."
"There's a sense of people becoming almost numb to it," agrees Kathleen Heide, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida. "Most of us deal with it by tuning it out. It almost becomes too horrible to think about because there's nothing you can do about it."
Consequently, while some shootings, such as Littleton, have remained distinct in people's minds, far more have merged into a kind of blur, Jonesboro into Paducah, Paducah into Conyers, Conyers into Pearl, Miss., and the result is that "they all disappear rather quickly," Levin says--including Fort Worth, which was gone from the national conscience in a matter of days.
In Daingerfield, however, the opposite has been true. The shooting here was well before the blurring, and each one since has resonated with absolute clarity as a reminder. Especially Fort Worth, which was a church, a Baptist church, a Baptist church in Texas with a man suddenly appearing in the back, screaming and opening fire.
Ten minutes. That's how long Fort Worth lasted.
Ten seconds. That's how long Daingerfield lasted, and on a sunny afternoon 19 years later, Forrest is talking about it with perfect recall to another of the survivors, Steve Cowan, saying: "That gun. It was just so crude-looking with that bayonet."
"The noise," says Cowan, nodding. "The bullets ricocheting."
"I know the color of the dress my little girl was wearing when I laid on top of her, thinking, 'I hope the bullets won't go through me and hit her,' " Forrest says.
"Red McDaniel," Cowan says. "I can't say what a hero he was. Because he knew he was going to die, and he rushed the guy, and got his arms around him, and got him to the ground, and smoke is coming out of his back."
"And then there's so much afterward," Forrest says.
There was fear. There was an inability to leave her house for days at a time, and then for months at a time, and even now there aren't many places where she feels comfortable or people she entirely trusts. "The first panic attack I had, I had no idea what was happening to me," she says. "It was near Christmas, and I was in the Longview Mall, near JC Penney. I just took off and started running to get out because I knew if I didn't I would die."
Cowan, an attorney who employs Forrest to watch over his house and children while he and his wife are at work, is one of the few she does trust. They've known each other for years. Of course, in Daingerfield, population 2,500, everyone has known everyone for years. "There are hundreds of connections in a small town," Cowan says. For example: "The girl that was killed, my little nephew had written her a love note, and it was folded up and in her hand when she was shot."
The girl, Gina Linam, was 7 years old. She was shot in the head. Thelma Richardson, 78, also was shot in the head, and Gene Gandy, 50, an usher in a folding chair who stood to greet the latecomer when the doors burst open, was wounded several times in the chest. "This is war," the man screamed, and just like that, three people were dying and 10 others were wounded, and there isn't a person in the sanctuary that day who doesn't think the numbers would have been much higher if not for a man named Chris Hall, who stood and jumped at the man just after the shooting began.
Hall managed to get the gunman out the doors and into the vestibule where the man's rifle, glasses and combat helmet went clattering to the floor, and that might have been the end of it except that the man then reached into his clothing and pulled out another gun. He began firing that at Hall, who skittered across the floor and crawled down a nearby stairway, and then at the next person charging up the aisle at him, Red McDaniel. In went the bullets into McDaniel's chest and out came smoke from his back, even as he bearhugged the man out the front doors, down the three steps and onto the lawn. There, on the grass, McDaniel was the fourth to die, and then came Kenneth Truitt, 49, who dove at the gunman and was shot in the chest.
And meanwhile, inside the sanctuary, a lot of people weren't sure if what had just happened was real or some bit of acting.
Forrest got up off her daughter and went toward Thelma Richardson, slumped in a pew.
Cowan went to Gene Gandy, who was on his back, smiling, and thought, "How foolish am I falling for this skit?"
Forrest looked in disbelief at the spreading blood.
Cowan heard a thumping to his left, looked over, saw another usher, Jack Dean, trying to take cover under a pew, realized that the thumping was one of Dean's feet smacking the floor, and noticed that a part of Dean's right arm was gone.
Forrest stayed by Richardson, talking to her as she died, while all around her people began crying and praying.
Cowan cradled Gene Gandy's head, then went outside where Kenneth Truitt was on the ground saying, "Oh my God, oh my God," then ran to where the gunman had just shot himself in the forehead. And that's when he realized who the gunman was: Alvin King III, a former math teacher at the high school who'd quit and moved to a farm, who was brilliant, who was strange, who was often mocked by his students for being an atheist, whose daughter had recently accused him of incest, whose eyes were now rolled back in his head, "just fluttering, fluttering, fluttering," says Cowan.
Who survived. Not for long, because he eventually hanged himself in jail, but survived that day, as did most of the people in the sanctuary, including Forrest, who was shaken of course, but fine. Really. One week later, she was right back in church. As she was the Sunday after that and the Sunday after that, and in between Sundays she was at the job she had then at a hair salon, where of course the shootings were the only topic of conversation, and that was fine, too.
Except one day at the hair salon, "I started crying and couldn't stop."
And another day at the grocery store, she couldn't get out of the car for fear someone was about to start shooting, so instead of shopping, she went home, locked the doors, closed the curtains, and only then felt safe. She began staying inside more and more. She stopped working. She stopped going to church. She stayed in her house for days at a time, which blended into weeks, which blended into months, and meanwhile, outside, there were shootings in restaurants, shootings in offices, shootings on streets, shootings in schools.
There was the Luby's Cafeteria shooting in Killeen, Tex., in which 23 were killed and at least 20 wounded, and "for two weeks I was in a daze," Forrest says.
There was San Ysidro, Calif. (21 killed, 15 wounded in a McDonald's), and Edmund, Okla. (14 dead in a postal facility), and Jacksonville, Fla. (eight dead at a car finance business), and the public execution of Gianni Versace: "I cried and cried and cried. It was further proof, you're never safe anywhere."
There was the Capitol (two dead), a rare day when she was out and about: "I know exactly where I was. I was in my black truck in Livingston, driving home from Houston."
There was Jonesboro "with those two little boys," and Pearl, "I can see that guy's face," and Los Angeles, "so horrible," and Atlanta, "Mark Barton. How could you forget?"
Nineteen years compressed into fear and therapy and medication and memories. "Oh I can remember them all," Forrest says. And then came Fort Worth.
The Other Church
Where the man screamed, "I am for real."
And some of the kids in the sanctuary of Wedgwood Baptist Church, there for a concert, thinking it was a skit, stood and yelled, "Shoot me."
And a week later, almost to the minute, the search for the meaning of what happened in the next 10 minutes is underway.
People walk through the sanctuary, where the blood-ruined carpet has been pulled out, and the walls have been patched in more than 80 places. "I'm doing great," says Damon Barnard, 17, who seven days before was running from dead person to dead person feeling for pulses.
They look at the spots where people fell, including Mary Beth Talley, who is lifting the back of her shirt to show people her wound. "Please, no more flowers," she says to them, laughing. "I have so many flowers."
They look at the e-mails, posted on the walls, and they talk to ministers such as Chris Shirley. "I don't understand why, and I don't understand why here, and I don't understand why us," he is saying. "But I believe in God," and that's where his thinking has taken him so far, that there is good and evil in the world, that for whatever reasons the gunman chose evil, and that mere human beings don't have the capacity to understand the ways God works.
"When you think of God, you have to think of his opponents. You have to think of Satan," adds another associate minister, Dax Hughes. "To say that God sent this man--no way. What kind of God would that be?" Nonetheless, he says, he is sure God was in the sanctuary that day because how else to explain why the man stopped shooting even though he had six clips of ammunition left? And that the pipe bomb he threw toward the front of the sanctuary exploded without great harm? "How did it miss us?" he says. And that 80 bullets were fired and only five people were killed. "I think God said, 'That's enough.' "
He falls silent, perhaps out of respect for what he calls "God's sovereignty," or perhaps to think about the bullets that flew past his head. He is sitting in the pew he was in when the shooting began, where someone in the ensuing week has written on the floor, "Thank you Lord for protecting Dax," which isn't far from a message written where one of the victims died that says, "Kim, forgive me for bringing you in." He knew Kim. He knew all the victims.
"I hate that this happened," he finally says. "I'm trying to find hope in this. But it's only been a week."
In fact at 6:50 p.m., it is a week exactly, and to mark the moment, he and Chris Shirley and 30 other people go to an upstairs classroom to talk about how each of them is doing.
"I think our first task tonight is prayer. Please pray that God will reveal His will to us on where we need to go from here," Shirley says, and the church is so quiet, so still it seems surreal that exactly a week ago a stranger was walking through the doors and shooting his first victim, a woman who was in the foyer sitting on a couch.
At 6:51, Christi Hughes, Dax's wife, reads aloud from a Bible passage.
A week before, she was frantically kicking off her shoes and running down the main hallway of the church as the gunman was shooting his way toward the sanctuary.
6:52. Dax Hughes is in the back of the room, sitting with his hands folded and shutting his eyes.
By this time the man was in the sanctuary, and the noise of the gunfire could be heard over the Christian rock band onstage, and the band members were dropping their instruments and taking cover, and a 17-year-old boy who was videotaping everything was turning the camera toward the gunman, and Hughes was peering over the back of the pew watching it all, including the 17-year-old dropping his camera as a bullet hit him in the forehead.
6:54. "It's me, it's me, it's me, O Lord, standing in need of prayer," Hughes and the others sing to each other.
Now the man was sitting in a back pew with a gun to his head, now he was standing back up, now he was throwing a pipe bomb, now he was resuming firing.
6:56. The 30 people break into small groups to pray.
6:57. A woman named Jamie, who has brought a lace-covered Bible, is saying, "Thank you, Lord, for getting us through a hard day today."
6:59. Hughes begins his prayer. "You are such a sweet Lord," he says.
7:00. "Right now I'm hearing the shots," says Jamie's husband, Mark, who has his eyes closed, as does everyone else.
One last shot, this one into the gunman's own head.
"Amen," Hughes says, and they open their eyes and unfold their hands, and that's how long 10 minutes can be.
Seconds That Never End
How long is 10 seconds, though?
That's what everyone wants to know whose lives are still unfolding 19 years later.
There is Chris Hall, for instance, then 28, now 47, then married, now divorced and remarried, who got a Carnegie Medal for bravery, but who also is back in the sanctuary from time to time, scrambling down the stairway.
"People talk about what a brave thing I did, but fear caught up with me, and I became very scared," he says of what happened next at the bottom of the stairs, and even though the fear dissipated long ago, he is suddenly crying when he begins to talk about Fort Worth. "Give me just a minute," he says, and then, after the minute, and maybe another, he says, "I don't know why this all of a sudden is difficult to talk about."
There is Judy Pollan, who that day was pushing her daughter and her daughter's friend under a pew, and 19 years later, as Daingerfield's school superintendent, found herself writing a letter just after the Littleton shootings to parents.
"We have a police officer at the high school and junior high school," she wrote, in an attempt at reassurance. "All building doors possible are being locked. . . . We have tracers on all the school phones. We have hand-held metal detectors. We have emergency plans in place should the need arise."
There is Marcee Tigert, the little girl Judy Pollan was pushing under the pew, 10 then, soon to turn 29, chatting with her mother and friends as they are in the sanctuary one day, decorating it for her upcoming wedding: How the sanctuary, now being used as a fellowship hall, got new carpeting. How to this day, Donna Collins, one of the wounded, will sit only in the very back pew of the new sanctuary. How Red McDaniel's widow never remarried, and made a living baking cakes, and now is in a retirement center fighting cancer. How Cheryl Linam, mother of 7-year-old Gina, ran screaming out the doors, across the street, into the Methodist church and up the aisle to the front where her husband was leading the choir, and how he fainted, and how she fell on top of him, and how the town later named a baseball diamond Linam Field.
"It seemed like the sirens ran all afternoon," says Shirley Steed, hearing the sirens again.
"He yells, 'This is war,' and he starts shooting," says Tigert, hearing the shots.
There is Steve Cowan.
"I do reflect on it, quite often," he says.
"And whenever he speaks about it he always cries," says his wife Terry.
And there is Margie Forrest.
Who, after sending the e-mail to Fort Worth, didn't come out of her house for three days.
Who says she still believes in God and hopes that one day soon she'll feel strong enough to go back to her church. "I've never stopped praying for God to watch over me every night. And He has."
Who can still see a blood-covered Bible and a choir member running down the aisle with two spots of red on her white collar.
Who remembers her daughter's dress was a pale blue Martha Miniature with ruffles and lace and a crinoline underneath.
Who remembers everything, and would welcome some blur in her life after all these years, but instead has a life of clarity in which she turns on the TV, and there is Killeen, or Paducah, or Atlanta, or Fort Worth, "and I'm back," she says, "sitting in the church, and I see all the people, and there's the gun, and there's the bayonet, and there's the flak jackets, and I think, 'If I could just get it out of my mind.'
"I mean I saw Gene Gandy fall.
"I mean I saw that.
"And then I think, 'These poor people. They don't know what's ahead.' "
CAPTION: First Baptist Church, Daingerfield, Tex., in 1980: Far right, friends console Larry Linam, whose daughter, 7, was killed in the shooting; center, weapons that Alvin King III carried into the church; and residents clean blood-stained carpeting and church pews.
CAPTION: "I see all the people, and there's the gun, and there's the bayonet . . . and I think, 'If I could just get it out of my mind,' " says Daingerfield survivor Margie Forrest.
CAPTION: In 1980, gunman Alvin King III, above, shattered the peace of many families who worshiped at the First Baptist Church in Daingerfield, Tex.