Rev. Al Meredith’s voice was full of sadness Sunday after he was told the number of deaths in the mass shooting at a South Texas church.
“Oh, no,” Meredith said. “It so breaks my heart.”
Meredith knows about the grief a church suffers in a mass shooting.
On Sept. 15, 1999, horror struck Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church when Larry Gene Ashbrook invaded a youth rally carrying 200 rounds of ammunition and a pipe bomb. Before he turned his gun on himself, seven people were dead and seven others injured.
Never miss a local story.
Meredith was the pastor at Wedgwood Baptist. He retired in 2015.
“Many people contact us, ask questions and then apologize for bringing it back up again,” Meredith said Sunday in a telephone interview. “But if you can help others through tragedies, we’re here.”
Meredith said his congregation was able to recover with the help of Fort Worth’s extended community. Police officers, community leaders and politicians stepped up support. The congregation received 13,000 letters and about 20,000 emails after the shooting, he told the Star-Telegram.
There’s a memorial at Wedgwood for the victims in the shooting.
“You never get over it,” Meredith said Sunday. “You get through it.”
And for Wedgwood and its members, that’s been to reach out and offer help to other churches and communities where deadly shootings have occurred through the years.
In the past, Meredith helped comfort the First Baptist Church congregation in Maryville, Ill., when it lost its pastor to a shooter. The Rev. Fred Winters was shot and killed during a Sunday sermon in 2009.
In 2012, Meredith was among religious leaders who offered prayers to families in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were gunned down inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In 2013, the pastor hosted a two-day seminar that focused on helping those affected by crimes and violent acts at churches and also included presentations on child predators, security plans and church safety.
And in 2015, the Wedgwood church community reached out and prayed with members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston after their pastor and eight others were shot to death.
“We offered our help and we ended up praying with them over the phone because they already had great support from their community,” Meredith said.
Once again, Meredith said the Wedgwood community will be available to help.
“If we can be a comfort to anyone, we are ready,” Meredith said Sunday. “If I can do or say something, I’m here.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.