In Navy Yard shooting, memories of Wedgwood and a boy from White Settlement

Posted Saturday, Sep. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy One Texas mother knows all about grief, and mental illness, and how national news can come home.

Fourteen years ago nearly to the day from the Navy Yard shootings, Donna Ennis lost her son.

Joey Ennis, 14, of White Settlement was one of seven people shot and killed in 1999 by an addled Navy reject who walked into a youth rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church.

When she heard Navy Yard killer Aaron Alexis lived, worked and worshiped in White Settlement, Donna Ennis did some math.

“I figured he was about as old as Joey, and I wondered if they went to high school together,” she said.

“I don’t understand why it keeps happening.”

Alexis, 34, moved to Texas only five years ago. But he was about the same age as Ennis and Justin Laird, another Brewer High School athlete injured at the church.

That year’s headlines could have been last week’s:

• Wedgwood gunman Larry Ashbrook had been discharged from the Navy, although years earlier.

• His coffee-drinking friends at a Forest Hill restaurant said he was likable, but was hearing voices.

• A Star-Telegram editor who had met Ashbrook remembered him for national news cameras as “cordial” and said he “couldn’t have been any nicer.”

• And nobody could imagine why he would take two of his father’s flea-market pistols and go out on a weeknight murdering teenagers at a church.

Gov. George W. Bush joined the mourners at a memorial service in Amon G. Carter Stadium.

At the insistence of Wedgwood’s pastor, the Rev. Al Meredith, all prayers included Ashbrook as the eighth victim of a mass killing attributed to mental illness.

“Every time this happens, a lot of people talk about gun control,” Donna Ennis said by phone from Granbury, her home for several years.

“The goal should be to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.

“The mentally ill and the criminal element always have plenty of guns.”

The mental health system is “failing,” she said.

And she thought of mothers who lost older sons and daughters in the Navy Yard, and Alexis’ mother in Brooklyn, who lost a son about Joey’s age.

“It breaks my heart whenever somebody else has to go through this,” she said.

“I can’t watch stories like this on the news, because I can’t bear to see anyone lose a child.”

A few of Joey’s friends keep in touch, she said.

Her friends steer away from the topic.

But every now and then, some new friend will ask whether she has grandchildren and then apologize when she tells what happened to her child.

“I tell them it’s OK,” she said.

“You didn’t bring anything up.

“Because it never goes away.”

No.

It never does.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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