Fort Worth

20 years later, Wedgwood faithful find strength to turn tragedy into blessings

Funeral services for Cassandra “Cassie” Griffin, 14, were held less than a week after a shooter crept into Wedgwood Baptist Church and took the lives of six other worshippers and wounded seven others.

Her parents, David and Tralissa Griffin, both spoke to the Wedgwood congregation Sunday, during a church service designed to mark the 20th anniversary of the shooting.

Eight people inside Wedgwood Baptist Church died at the hands of the man who killed Cassie Griffin on Sept. 15, 1999. Larry Gene Ashbrook, 48, walked toward the church’s doors smoking a cigarette just moments before he began shooting people.

Associate Pastor Jeff Laster was the first to be shot just after he reached out for Ashbrook’s hand. Moments later, Laster discovered he had been wounded in the stomach and the left arm.

Ashbrook shot and killed seven, and then ended his own life in a back pew of the church. Before his death, Ashbrook wounded seven others at the church.

Kristi Beckel, 14; Shawn Brown, 23; Sydney Browning, 36; Joey Ennis, 14; Cassandra Griffin, 14; Susan Kimberly Jones, 23; and Justin Michael Stegner Ray, 17, were killed.

The injured were Robert DeBord, 17; Justin Laird, 16; Kevin Galey, 38; Nicholas Skinner, 14; Jeff Laster, 34; Jaynanne Brown, 41; and Mary Beth Talley, 17.

An audience made up mostly of teens were inside the church that Wednesday night attending a concert and sharing stories from the annual “See You at the Pole” rally, an event started by Burleson students in 1990 designed to gather students nationwide around their schools’ flagpoles to pray for others.

Tralissa Griffin told the congregation that her daughter was excited about the event, that she had gathered students from her school to attend the event with her.

FTW_WedgwoodSundayService2
Tralissa Griffin speaks about the loss of her 14 year-old daughter during Sunday Service at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Larry Gene Ashbrook entered the church 20 years ago shot 14 people killing seven and injuring another seven. He also set off a pipe bomb. (Special to the Star-Telegram Bob Booth) Bob Booth Special to the Star-Telegram

Most days she struggled to hold onto her faith, the mother said about the time after her daughter’s passing. But soon after the shooting, Tralissa Griffin said she found a devotional booklet and that the strength she needed to get through her tragedy was inside.

“My healing started after I found this little book,” Tralissa said.

Since finding the book, Tralissa said that she has found out that every day, “God has a special message for me.”

One of the first messages the mother received came from an official with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office who said that Cassie did not suffer and likely did not even realize that she had been shot.

Autopsy results showed that the 14-year-old girl had been shot in the neck, according to the medical examiner’s office. Tralissa looked upon that news as a blessing.

“So she went from praising God to immediately being in His presence,” Tralissa said.

‘It gave me no comfort’

Cassie’s father, David Griffin, told the congregation that he was about to give up his faith and become an atheist after his daughter’s death.

“I became angry and bitter because I could not understand how a loving God could allow something like this to happen,” David said. “My plan was just to give up and stop serving God.”

Then one day David said he saw Cassie’s Bible sitting on a table in their home. There was a passage underlined and the part of the verse that said, “He who stands with me has nothing to fear,” was given special weight, David Griffin said.

“It gave me no comfort,” he said.

David told the audience that he realized later he had interpreted the verse incorrectly.

“She emphasized the words without fear,” he said. “As Christians we live in safety because at the end of our life we know where we’re going to be. So we should live our lives without fear.”

FTW_WedgwoodSundayService5
Former Rev. Al Meredith used an analogy of making a Red Velvet Cake during Sunday Service at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. He said the individual ingredients may not sound appealing but put together they make something quite amazing. Larry Gene Ashbrook entered the church 20 years ago shot 14 people killing seven and injuring another seven. He also set off a pipe bomb. (Special to the Star-Telegram Bob Booth) Bob Booth Special to the Star-Telegram

Al Meredith, who was Wedgwood pastor at the time the shooting occurred, said the theme of the day’s service was, “God wastes nothing.”

But Meredith suggested that the meaning of the service came from Romans 8:28 — “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

That was not to suggest that all the things that happen in our lives will be good, Meredith said.

“Cancer is evil and tickets from police officers are bad,” Meredith said.

But just like a baker can take a stick of butter, flour, red dye no. 2 and heat and create a red velvet cake, God can take the events that people consider the tragedies in their lives and create blessings, Meredith explained.

“Focus on God. Not on your tragedies and not on yourself,” Meredith said. “Even if you don’t live long enough to see how God will take the tragedies of life and turn them into good, don’t worry about it. I’ve read the last chapter, and guess what? We win.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.
  Comments