To protect and serve God

newlifechurchrockies 01Reporters spent Monday covering much-needed ground in the tragic killings at the Youth With a Mission campus and New Life Church in Colorado. It turns out that there are even more religious angles. I've been really impressed with all of the Colorado papers and television stations, and there's way too much to highlight here, but let's look at the two newest angles. The first is information on what may have motivated the gunman, Matthew Murray, as described by the local ABC affiliate:

Murray had been thrown out of the Youth With A Mission school a few years ago and had been sending it hate mail, police said in court papers Monday.

There is a Youth With A Mission office on the New Life Church campus, and many members of New Life have completed the YWAM's school and discipleship programs. The groups have also worked together in local evangelical outreach programs. ...

"It appears that the suspect had been kicked out of the program three years prior and during the past few weeks had sent different forms of hate mail to the program and-or its director," police said. (Read more on that story.)

Police gave no immediate details on the hate mail. And the training center said that Murray left in 2002 -- five years ago, not three -- and that no one there can recall any visits or other communication from him since then.

Earlier Monday, a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it appeared Murray "hated Christians."

Along these lines, USA TODAY had a good summary of the situation. Murray's family is being described as Christian and deeply religious. The Denver Post covered the family's apology. A Rocky Mountain News story describes the gunman as a recluse. Another Post story gave a little more context:

Rev. Phil Abeyta of His Love Fellowship church in Denver, who was also Murray's uncle, read a statement from the Murray family.

"Our family cannot express the magnitude of our grief for the victims. We ask for forgiveness. We cannot understand why this has happened."

Murray was homeschooled and briefly attended Arapahoe Community College. Officials with Colorado Christian University said last year he had enrolled in the school but quickly dropped out.

Cody Askeland, 21, who lives near the family's home said he knew Matthew Murray's younger brother, Chris, from the neighborhood and had heard loose talk that Matthew Murray had behavioral problems.

I imagine we'll have more coverage of this man and what motivated him to murder innocent victims in the days to come. To this point, though, the media have been responsible and careful in connecting the dots.

The other big story to come out of yesterday was the press conference given by the heroine who stopped further carnage by taking down the shooter. You can imagine that a woman who volunteers her services as a church security guard might have interesting things to say about the situation she found herself in. The coverage I read was generous with her quotes and let her describe her feelings using her evangelical Christian vocabulary. Here, for instance, is how The Denver Post began its story:

Amid deafening cracks of gunfire, smoke-spewing canisters and the flight of thousands of New Life Church members, Jeanne Assam said she suddenly saw the hallways clear and a gunman come through the door.

"I took cover. I identified myself. I engaged him. I took him down," the 42-year-old former law officer and volunteer church security guard said Monday at a news conference in the Colorado Springs police station.

"I just said, 'Holy Spirit, be with me.' I wasn't even shaking," Assam said. "I give the credit to God. I say this very humbly. God was with me."

Assam, a member of New Life for only a few months, admitted she had been without sleep since Sunday's midday shootings at Colorado's largest church.

The former Minneapolis police officer added this intriguing detail:

Assam, single and without children, has been working three months for an educational ministry called Messengers International, run by John and Lisa Bevere in Colorado Springs.

Assam said she had just ended a three-day fast Sunday. During the fasting she prayed and asked God to help her decide what to do with her future and whether she should work again in law enforcement.

"I was weak," she said. "God made me strong. What was going through my mind is how awesome God is."

She said she loves law enforcement but isn't certain about her future and will continue to pray about it. This Denver Post story gave a perspective on Assam from one of the shooting victims who survived. This Denver Post story had more details about how Assam engaged the shooter. And the ABC affiliate provided more information about how integral Assam was to helping New Life members:

Boyd said Assam was the one who suggested the church beef up its security Sunday following the Arvada shooting, which it did. The pastor credited the security plan and the extra security for preventing further bloodshed.

Boyd said there are 15 to 20 security people at the church. All are volunteers but the only ones armed are those who are licensed to carry weapons.

The security guards are members of the church who are screened and not "mercenaries that we hire to walk around our campus to provide security," Boyd said.

So that answers some of the questions many have been asking about how the security detail came to be. The best coverage on that front came in the form of an essay at Beliefnet by Patton Dodd (noted by reader Chris M. yesterday):

I first attended New Life as teenager in the mid-1990s, and I recall bomb scares and death threats in those days, plus one weekend when animal blood was poured on the church walls. When I worked for New Life, I knew of regular threats on the life of the senior pastor and was glad to know we had armed guards in the building and fine-tuned emergency protocol. Most large churches have similar systems in place for events like this, including undercover personnel like the one at New Life who felled the shooter yesterday. I imagine such protocols have been standard at least since 1999, when a gunman in Fort Worth, Texas entered Wedgwood Baptist Church and killed 7 people before turning a gun on himself.

Dodd is Beliefnet's Christianity editor. And Beliefnet had the most context on the security guard situation because it employs someone with direct ties to the megachurch community.

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