A bang on the door, then profanities and murder

FORT WORTH KILLINGS Loner lit a cigarette, then opened fire on a Baptist church crowded with teenagers. Seven died before he shot himself

WAS THIS a crime against Christianity or another instance of America's gun culture gone wild? As Fort Worth, Texas, became the latest venue for a seemingly random mass shooting, the heartland of the country was already debating whether Satan or the proliferation of weapons was most to blame for the deaths of eight people in a suburban church packed with teenagers.

The gunman, identified as 47-year-old Larry Gene Ashbrook, opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun and rolled a pipe-bomb down the aisle of the Wedgewood Baptist Church during a crowded service on Wednesday night, killing four teenagers and three adults then shooting himself in the head.

He spouted profanities and anti-religious slogans before lighting a cigarette and starting the shooting. The congregation was caught so unawares many people carried on singing before realising the screams and the blood were real.

The pipe-bomb exploded without causing injuries, but the gunman used his 9mm pistol as well as a .380-calibre weapon to pick off his victims one by one. "Everyone thought it was a skit," said 13-year-old Terri Ramirez, who was praying in one of the front pews. "I thought it was a skit, too, and then I saw the girl in front of me get shot."

A further seven people were taken to hospitals with gunshot wounds, including a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the back, the bullet penetrating through and out of his stomach.

More than 150 people were attending the special evening prayer service featuring music by the Dallas-based Christian rock group Forty Days.

With most of the congregation running for cover or cowering beneath their seats, Ashbrook moved inside a pew and shot himself in the temple. Police who rushed to the scene hurriedly evacuated the church in case the gunman was wired with explosives. A bomb-detecting robot found nothing apart from six unused clips for his 9mm weapon.

Within hours of the attack, the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Ashbrook's house, 10 minutes' drive from the church. He had comprehensively wrecked the place before going on his rampage. Despite finding some journals, the FBI said there was nothing to suggest a possible motive. "I don't know that we'll ever know the answer to why it happened,'' said Robert Garrity, the FBI's special agent in charge.

The series of gun attacks on affluent white American suburbs seem to be endless, once again raising the highly divisive issue of gun control and the socio-cultural factors that influence deranged loners to take out their self-loathing on large groups of strangers as well as themselves.

A 9mm semi-automatic handgun was one of the weapons used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold when they terrorised their high school in Littleton, Colorado, in April, killing 12 fellow students and a teacher before committing suicide.

Texas has the highest concentration of gun-ownership of any state, as well as some of the most virulent opposition to gun control.

The state governor and presidential aspirant, George W Bush, said the incident was a "terrible tragedy made worse by the fact that it took place in a house of hope and love", but he made no reference to firearms.

With the Republican- controlled Congress resisting calls for tighter controls on assault weapons and cheap handguns that have no apparent use except to commit crimes, the country has witnessed a particularly bloody summer.

In July, an out-of-pocket day trader in suburban Atlanta opened fire at a brokerage firm, killing 13 people including himself. The following month a white supremacist attacked a Jewish community centre in Los Angeles packed with young children, wounding five people and killing a postman as he made his getaway.

Earlier this week, a Vietnamese man upset over the death of his mother stormed into a hospital in Anaheim, California, and shot three employees dead. At a nearby car parts store, a man opened fire and killed two people. In Fort Worth, yesterday's chat shows and television news stations speculated about the need for metal detectors and other security devices at churches.

Some gun lobbyists said concealed weapons was the answer - enabling armed citizens to kill a would-be murderer before he could shoot anybody himself.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 40 years ...

Recruitment Genius: Weekend Factory Operatives

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer is curr...

Recruitment Genius: FP&A Analyst

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A market leading acquirer and m...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fully qualified electricians re...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific