Gunman's rampage caught on videotape
The Arizona Republic
September 18, 1999
At dusk on Thursday, less than 24 hours after the worst mass murder in the city's history, Acting Police Chief Ralph Mendoza and two other officers stood transfixed in front of a TV screen.At least two people with video cameras had filmed the attack in Wedgwood Baptist Church, where Larry Gene Ashbrook shot 14 adults and teenagers, seven of them fatally, before killing himself. A day later, as Mendoza peered at the screen, studying Ashbrook's face and listening intently, trying to count the gunshots.
Members reclaim church after deathsThe Arizona Republic
September 18, 1999
They returned to Wedgwood Baptist Church Friday. Forever changed.For the first time since Larry Ashbrook fired into a crowd of more than 150 attending a youth rally, church members and some friends and relatives of the seven injured and seven slain victims returned to reclaim their church.
Arming 'Crazy Larry'The Commercial Appeal
September 18, 1999
Larry Ashbrook's neighbors in Fort Worth, Texas, called him "Crazy Larry."His grip on reality was never great. Unemployed and unwashed, he muttered obscenities at passersby and stared angrily and silently when addressed.
At 47, he lived with his father, who spent much of his time repairing the damage his son inflicted on their house. He was known to assault his father and curse him in profane tirades.
He was feared, distrusted and avoided, but there wasn't much neighbors could do.
On tape, carnage in the churchThe Philadelphia Enquirer
September 18, 1999
Videotapes made during Wednesday's massacre inside Wedgwood Baptist Church show people diving beneath pews as a gunman in a black jacket and baseball cap coldly paces, reloads, and fires "shot after shot after shot," police said yesterday.Two people in the congregation were taping the youth concert and service when the gunman opened fire. "There is a possibility one of the cameramen might have been one of the victims," acting Police Chief Ralph Mendoza said.
Church shooter had prescription for ProzacThe Commercial Appeal
September 21, 1999
FORT WORTH, Texas - A doctor had prescribed the anti-depressant drug Prozac for Larry Gene Ashbrook, but investigators are unsure whether he was taking it when he killed seven people and then himself in a Fort Worth church last week, police said on Monday.Fort Worth's Lt. Mark Krey, who is heading the investigation into the largest mass shooting in the city's history, said police have found a Prozac vial in Ashbrook's name and want to ask doctors why it was prescribed.
Killer at Texas church had no traces of drugsThe Arizona Republic
September 23, 1999
Larry Gene Ashbrook, the paranoid loner who fatally shot seven people at a Fort Worth church last week before killing himself, had no drugs in his system, laboratory tests show.Toxicology results showed no trace of illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, according to Dr. Angela Springfield, chief toxicologist for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office.
Larry Gene Ashbrook
Three adults and four teen-agers were killed on September 16, 1999, when Larry Gene Ashbrook -- armed with two handguns and shouting anti-Baptist rhetoric -- opened fire in Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Seven others were wounded.
Minutes after the rampage the killer sat in a pew towards the back of the church and blew his brains out.
Armed with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun and a .380-caliber handgun, Ashbrook reloaded several times as he calmly walked down the aisle shooting and spewing out mocking comments about the Baptist religion. Three empty gun clips were found at the crime scene. He also set off a homemade pipe bomb but it did not harm anyone.
The victims were attending a concert by Forty Days, a Christian rock group from Dallas, as part of an annual "See You at the Pole" prayer event organized by local schools. The Forty Days band was playing a song called "Alle," short for "alleluia," when "we heard a couple of pops and we thought it was the speakers," said Drue Phillips, 19, the group's bass player and backup singer.
According to his neighbors Ashbrook was a jobless loner who exposed himself, screamed obscenities and kicked doors during fits of rage. They said he was often seen carrying a blue gym bag. Occasionally his temper flared, though no one knew if he had any particular religious convictions. He "has been strange as long as I can remember," a 38-year-old neighbor said.
Investigators picking through his modest, wood-frame home, found bomb-making equipment. Previous to his murderous rampage, Ashbrook ransacked his house, breaking holes in the walls, pouring concrete in the toilets, overturning furniture and slicing up family photos. "He virtually destroyed the interior of his house," said Robert Garrity, the FBI's special agent in charge. "This has the appearance of being a very troubled man, who, for whatever reason in his own mind, sought to quiet whatever demons that bothered him."
Old journals revealed that he was very disturbed and particularly upset about his difficulty in finding and keeping a job, the agent said. "I think he was just somebody who was a social outcast," Garrity said. "This has the appearance of being a very troubled man, who for whatever reason in his own mind, sought to quiet whatever demons that bothered him."
Ashbrook never married or had children, and had peculiar habits like leaving home for an hour each morning carrying a blue canvas bag. Elderly residents would retreat into their homes when Ashbrook walked down the street, intimidated by his menacing appearance. He invariably opened and closed doors to houses and cars with violent kicks.
He became more erratic after his mother died nine years ago. Ashbrook lived for many years with his father, Jack D. Ashbrook, a retired railroad switchman, who died two months ago at age 85. Across the street from the Ashbrooks' home, longtime neighbors said they saw Larry Ashbrook push his father down more than once, but did not call police because they feared retaliation.
Days before the shooting rampage at a Baptist church, Ashbrook wrote two letters to the editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram complaining about the CIA, psychological warfare, assaults by co-workers, being drugged by police and being suspected of being a serial killer. He even came by the newspaper's offices and visited city editor Stephen Kaye, who described the killer as "the opposite of someone you'd be concerned about... He couldn't have been any nicer."
He repeated his concerns in an Aug. 19 telephone call to FW Weekly, a Fort Worth alternative newspaper. Ashbrook said he was being targeted by authorities and that he was innocent of any crime, the newspaper said. "I want someone to tell my story," he told the newspaper. "No one will listen to me; no one will believe me."
The two letters, dated July 31 and August 10, read as follows
City editor Stephen Kaye Fort Worth Star-Telegram 400 W. Seventh St. Fort Worth, Texas, 76102 July 31, 1999
I am interested in relating to you some events I have experienced. If these events are true, then they would indicate a serious injustice against me. Specifically: the denial of due process for me in the investigation of me as a suspected serial murderer. I use the term -investigation- loosely. It was not so much an investigation as it was a continuous intereference in my life and employment for a period of possibly twenty years.
Three operative terms apply to this situation: First; rumor control, this was one method by which those investigating me used to create problems for me: Second: Psychological warfare, this was the general mode of of operation: Third: Plausible deniability, the ideas those involved would proffer in order to divert blame from themselves.
The first experience I had which became a clue to my future problems occured in July of -79.- Soon after reporting to a deployment site with the U.S. Navy squadron, I attended a social event. While there I was pulled aside by a young man who was in that squadron and he asked me some odd questions. The questions involved the murder of someone I had no knowledge of. The tone of his questions became almost accusatory. This was the first of three similar events which occured during my active duty with the Navy from -79- to -83.- What I eventually began to wonder was if there were any reason for me to be a suspect in any murder. As I now know, there were several abductions or murders of young women in Fort Worth and Arlington during the -70s- when I lived in the area.
After I moved back to Fort Worth in -84- the odd events became a major problem in my life and occurred both on and off the job. The seriousness of the events and the humiliation I sufered made it impossible for me to keep a job.
The most pronounced situation began soon after I began work at the Photo-Etch Company in 1986. Shortly after I was hired as a machinist I was put on the evening shift with another employee who was hired about a week after me. We were the only workers at the company during that shift. At some point around September of that year in the evening I was taking a break when the other employee walked up to me and made a somewhat veiled indirect threat. It went like this: -I have a lot of friends on the police force, in fact I know a woman police officer who can kick your (deleted) all over the place.- This was the beginning of continuous troubles on the job at that company. When I attempted to remedy the problems through the proper channels I got no where. The troubles included minor physical abuse and general disrespect by another employee.
Eventually after about six months of the situation I was visited by the owners son. He identified himself as the one who oversees the machine shop (even though I had never met him) and he called me a liar concerning what was happening on the job. It was obvious then that there was nothing I could do to remedy the situation and I quit to look for another job.
During the period of unemployment that ensued the most blatant event occurred. At that time in my life I was not dating, socializing or spending much time with others. One evening I decided to go out for a beer and I ended up at a nightclub on East Lancaster. After I had been there for a few minutes a man came and sat next to me at the bar. All that I recall of him is that he talked about he had been in the U.S. Army special forces. During the time we talked I began to feel slightly sick so I went to the restroom. After a short time I felt better; however as I returned to my seat I became very dizzy and passed out. Never before had I experienced such an event. I was partically concious and was aware that I as dragged out to the back of the bar by several men. Eventually I told them that I believed that I had been durgged and would they call the police. -We are the police- was one man's reply. I was held against the wall with one mans hand around my throat for several minutes. During that time I described for them the man who had been sitting next to me. If they did search for him they didn't find him. After a while I felt better and left. Had I been at the east Fort Worth bar that Linda Taylor was abducted from by Farryion Wardrip two years earlier? I have other reasons for suspecting this.
The next job I had I was fired from, for no valid reason, one week after the abduction of Wendy Robinson from Lake Weatherford. I believe there was a connection.
In 1987, around the late summer, I began to seek the audience of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I certainly had reason to believe I was being targeted by some investigative group. I was unable to get an agent over the phone as the young woman who was answering the phones would not connect me with one for reasons I've never understood. By June -88- I decide to pay a visit to the FBI office in person. I went to the down town Fort Worth Federal Court House third floor office of the FBI and asked to speak with an agent. An agent, I will not list his name here, invited me to sit in his office and he would hear what I had to say. The problem, though, is that he listened for about one minute then stood-up and told me that I would be -contacted.- I did not believe him though. I shook his hand and left.
Within about ten days I began to be visited by a person from the neighborhood whom I had only been slightly acquainted with years earlier. During the course of our initial, short, conversations he asked me if I would be a -designated- driver for him and his brother some time. I told him that I was uninterested. He continued to come around for several weeks with the same request until my interest was piqued and I consented to be his designated driver so that he and his brother could visit a bar.
Beginning in late June I went to his house to pick him up and take him to the bar he wanted to go to. We started out with him directing me to go toward west Fort Worth on Loop 820. When we got all the way around to the west side of -820- he began discussing with his brother which bar to go to. Evenutally they settled on a bar on Highway 180 even though we already exited on to Route 199. After turning around and getting to -80- my passengers decided they didn't want to go there either. I then took them home. To make a long story short: in the foolowing year up to April of -89- I continued to go over to this persons house after he would call me. There were two recurrent phrases that continued to come up in various conversations with him. The first was that he -was going to do a cemetary job.- Initially when I asked what he meant he said that he did lawn maintenance at a cemetary. Then he would cite this quote which he said went back to someone else: -Live by cancer, die by cancer.- All he meant by this, he would say, ws that he was of the zodiac sign of the cancer and that so was I. This relationship continued until the day of Rick Green's arrest for the murders of several people in west Fort Worth. When I called him up several times after Green's arrest I was told by someone else that he was at -another location.-He did not contact me again.
The possible connection is this: Ricky Green abducted two women from a bar on -199.- Wendy Robinson was abducted from Lake Weatherford which is near -180.- Was the drive my acquiantances took me on supposed to be a test of some sort? I believe it was.
After Ricky Greens arrest I realized the reasons for my troubles. There was no doubt. However; I could not forsee, at that time, that there was another serial murderer, Faryion Waldrip, who fit the same physical description of both Green and myself.
What could I have done about it? I tried for months to find a lawyer who might make a case for me. After a year or so it was evident no lawyers were going to be interested. Then I began making contact with the media. I contacted three newspapers: The Dallas Morning News, The Dallas Times Herald and The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All with no result. I contacted each of the network TV station affiliate news rooms. None were interested. During one conversation with a TV news anchor he asked me an odd question: -Didn't you recently get out of the military.-Certainly that struck me as a very strange or evne suspicious question for him to ask. Why would he possibly think that I had been in the military?
I have sought the assistance of many different people. I could relate many more events that indicate that I was targeted as a suspected serial murderer. There are many names of people whom I could identify as being a party to the events. If just one individual admitted, for there part what I allege, then I believe the others would begin to be proven.
What I am asking is for you to investigate and tell my story.
City Editor Stephen Kaye The Fort Worth Star-Telegram 400 W. Seventh St. Fort Worth, Texas 76102 August 10, 1999
This communication is an addendum to the July 31 letter. It is obvious that you are uninterested in my story. Therefore, I find it necessary to amplify certain aspects of it.
Consider one of three situations I experienced where people I had never met volunteered that they were either former Central Intelligence Agency employees or were laision with the CIA while they were in the military.
In 1987, after being fired from the company I worked for in July, as I related earlier, I got a job with a forging company in Fort Worth. On the morning I reported to that company I aws to be indoctrinated into the opearations of the machine shop by the shop foreman. Unfortunately, it was not so much an indocrination as it was a recounting of the mans exploits in Viet Nam. Particularly his story was about how he worked laision with the CIA and his exploits included special forces operations which entailed assissination of enemy political units. This lecture lasted the entire morning. From eight until lunchtime.
If this were the only time I had ever encountered someone who voluntered such a story I would think nothing of it. However, since it is one of three encounters and since it falls within the time period that I am certain that I was being targeted as a suspected serial murderer, then I must consider it a relevant part of my situation. My employment at this company eventually became impossible and I quit. Not because I could not work with them but because they did not want to work with me.
Without belaboring the point with my experiences, I will call to your attention two stories that have come out of the news in the last decade. The first involved the Tarrant County Sheriffs Department. I believe the year was 1991; and in that year there was a situation which came to light in which it was found that reserve deputies with the sheriffs department, who were full time U.S. Airforce personel, were also discovered to be affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. What I particularly recall is that when one of those involved personel was interviewed on TV (KXAS Channel 5, NBC affiliate) he directly stated that they were involved in -going after child abductors.- Amy Robinson's abductor perhaps?
The second also involved the sheriff's department. The year was, I believe, -95- or -96.- The story that came out disclosed that an individual or individuals within the department had had, for some time, a web site that contained the dossier's of suspects in a criminal investigation. These files were being made available to civilians so as to enable them to aid in the -criminal- investigations. The implication of this should be obvious with regard to my allegations.
What I must wonder about is the reason that no news reporting agency, particularly yours, is interested in this story. Is it because you think it implausible or unimportant? Is it because the general political climate in Fort Worth is not conducive to such a story? Or is there a clue in the words of John Chriswell, then news anchor for the CBS affiliate, when he asked me, as I was attempting to explain my situation: -Didn't you just get out of the military?-
It is apparent to me that the suspicions against me have been widely disseminated. I believe that there are a few individuals who would realize no damage to themselves if they admitted to the truth regarding my allegations.
With all due respect,
6 Dead, 8 Wounded in Texas Church Massacre
Pipe Bomb Explodes in Sanctuary
Sept. 15, 1999
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- A man dressed in black walked into a teen-age church service Wednesday night, pulled a gun and opened fire. Six were killed before the gunman fatally shot himself in a church pew.
"He hits the door real hard to make his presence known and he just immediately started firing," said Dax Hughes, the church's college minister.
Lt. David Ellis of the Fort Worth Police Department said the man killed three adults and three teen-agers before he killed himself. Eight more were hospitalized, some in critical condition, he said.
Police said they did not have a motive for the shooting. Police said they believed the man was in his 30s, but they did not know his identity.
Pipe bomb explodes
Just after the 7 p.m. shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church, a pipe bomb exploded on a balcony inside the sanctuary, but police did not know of any injuries. A bomb squad was inspecting several suspicious packages found at the church, Ellis said.
About 150 young people were inside the sanctuary for the annual "See You at the Pole" gathering, where students affirm their faith and concern for the problems of society by holding prayer time around their school's flagpole.
"He was very calm and looked normal and was smoking a cigarette," witness Christy Martin told KDFW-TV. She said the man had long hair and wore a mustache.
Opens fire in choir practice
Chris Applegate, a seventh grader, said he was in choir practice when the gunman burst into the room.
"We were singing a song and then in the middle of the song this guy opened the door and fired one shot," he said. "He just kept telling us to stay still."
"We all just jumped under the benches and he fired about 10 more shots. ... Somebody said, 'Run, run,' and we all started running," Chris said.
The man reloaded several times during the rampage.
When the gunfire was over, Hughes said, the man "sat in the back pew and put a gun (to his head) and shot himself and fell over."
Few Clues to Texas Massacre
Motive Sought For 8 Deaths in Church
Sept. 16, 1999
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Police found few hints of a motive today in the trashed home and old journals of Larry Gene Ashbrook, who opened fire in a Baptist church during a service for teenagers, killing seven people and himself.
Ashbrook, 47, described as an eccentric loner feared by some neighbors, left no message explaining his rampage.
Investigators were left to determine what they could from the journals and damage to Ashbrook's home -- holes punched in walls, toilets destroyed and family photographs shredded.
"This has the appearance of being a very troubled man who ... sought to quiet whatever demons that bothered him," said FBI special agent in charge Robert Garrity. "I don't know that we'll ever know the answer to the question of why it happened."
Opened fire on teenagers
Ashbrook, dressed in blue jeans, a black jacket and smoking a cigarette, entered Wedgwood Baptist Church Wednesday evening as teenagers listened to a Christian rock band in the sanctuary.
In the church lobby, Ashbrook confronted his first victims with a question: "What's the program?" Then he shot a janitor who approached him and killed two more people before walking into the crowded sanctuary.
Some 150 teenagers gathered inside initially thought the killer was part of a skit as he began cursing and spouting anti-Baptist rhetoric. They scrambled for cover as Ashbrook opened fire, pausing at least twice to reload.
Detonated pipe bomb
"The guy pointed at me and shot at me!" an out-of-breath man told a 911 dispatch operator. "I saw the flash of a muzzle and headed the other direction."
"There's a woman here who looks like she's bleeding in the head!" a church nursery coordinator told another operator.
Ashbrook lit and rolled a homemade pipe bomb down an aisle at one point. It exploded but did not harm anyone.
Seven people -- choir members, seminarians and high school students -- lay dead or dying in the aftermath. Seven others were wounded, three seriously. Ashbrook then killed himself in a rear pew.
30 spent shells found
Acting police chief Ralph Mendoza said Ashbrook's only known police record was a 1971 arrest for marijuana possession.
Authorities said Ashbrook carried two weapons, a 9mm Ruger semiautomatic handgun and a .380-caliber AMT handgun. Investigators found six loaded 9mm clips in his jacket pocket but were unsure if the .380 was fired inside the church.
Mendoza estimated there were 30 spent 9mm shell casings inside the church.
The .380 was purchased legally from a now-closed flea market shop, Mendoza said. Officials still were researching the purchase of the 9mm.
'Very emotionally disturbed'
Bomb-making tools, including files, pipes, fuses and gunpowder, were found inside Ashbrook's modest wood-frame home.
The old journals indicated Ashbrook had been upset about his inability to keep a job.
"I think he was just somebody who was a social outcast," Garrity said. "We found evidence that he was a very emotionally disturbed person."
Erratic and abusive
Ashbrook never married or had children and lived alone since his 85-year-old father died in July. While some neighbors had dismissed him as a harmless eccentric, others said he had became erratic, even abusive, since his mother died nine years ago.
"Before she died, Larry still had it together. After she died, he went mental," said Karen Ivey, a neighbor for 19 years.
A brother of the gunman declined comment when reached at his home today.
Church will go on
Church members at Wedgwood were left to cope with the tragedy that shattered the peace of their sanctuary. Senior Pastor Al Meredith vowed to hold regular Sunday services at the large, red brick church this week if the police investigation is finished.
"Our heart's desire is that the king of darkness will not prevail over the kingdom of light," Meredith said.
'They're laughing today'
This morning, hundreds packed an auditorium at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth to sing and pray. Two of the dead were seminary students and another was a graduate.
Mourners stood five deep at an altar, filled the balcony and even sat on the floor. Many wept or fell to their knees as they sang "Amazing Grace."
President Clinton's home pastor, the Rev. Rex Horne of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., told the grieving crowd that the victims had died for their faith.
"We're weeping today. They're laughing today. We're planning memorial services here. They're having great celebrations. We're missing them here. They're having reunions over there," said Horne, who was in Fort Worth before the tragedy.
"And they know, just in the moment in the twinkling of an eye, that we'll all be together again," Horne said.
Tape traces killer's steps
FORT WORTH -- Two videotapes taken in the sanctuary of Wedgwood Baptist Church show Larry Gene Ashbrook methodically picking and shooting his victims, one of them a high school senior who filmed the gunman who was about to kill him, police and friends said yesterday.
In a related development, the `Star-Telegram learned that a man matching Ashbrook's description acted suspiciously last month when he visited a nondenominational Flower Mound church to ask about a long-lost friend and to inquire whether the church performed exorcisms.
Justin Ray, 17, a senior at Cassata Learning Center, and a woman were separately videotaping a youth rally inside the sanctuary Wednesday night when they turned their cameras to record a man firing shots in the back of the church, police said. Ray, who was fatally shot, kept taping as Ashbrook fired at him because he thought the shooting was part of a skit, according to friends of the teenager.
Ray's uncle Larry Dockery, speaking for the family, said Ray was panning the sanctuary with the camera and did not realize how close he was to Ashbrook or that he was about to be shot.
Acting Police Chief Ralph Mendoza and police administrators who viewed the videotapes said they depict some of the 150 to 200 people diving for cover as Ashbrook casually moved through the sanctuary, selecting and firing at his victims.
"He's kind of pacing slowly, holding his hand out with the gun out," Mendoza said. "What I saw on the film was one handgun firing. He ejected a magazine, loaded it and continued firing. It was not rapid. It was slow, methodical, picking [his targets], aiming and shooting.
"He did not seem to be worried. He did not seem to be panicked. ... He took his time. ... He randomly stood there and fired shot after shot after shot."
Mendoza said both videotapes suddenly go black, and neither captures any blood or anyone being shot.
Police said one tape came from a camera found clutched in Ray's hand. The other was given to a police officer Thursday evening.
Mendoza urged anyone who filmed the carnage to give the videotape to police.
The video revelations came two days after Ashbrook, a 47- year-old Forest Hill loner, strolled into the church at 5522 Whitman Ave. in southwest Fort Worth, killed seven people and wounded seven others before sitting in a back pew and fatally shooting himself in the head.
Investigators said they have pursued numerous leads to explain why Ashbrook picked the neighborhood church.
"We're at a loose end," Deputy Chief Don Gerland said. It's frustrating to be unable to establish a "clear-cut connection" linking Ashbrook to the church, he said.
The church "had to be picked," he said. "He would have to know where he was going. You don't come across this church by accident; you have to know where it is."
Detectives said they plan to investigate the Flower Mound incident, reported by two women who said they were startled when they saw a newspaper photograph of Ashbrook.
Melody Kolbensvik, 40, said the picture bore a striking resemblance to a bizarre-acting man who visited Shiloh Church early last month, complaining that people were preventing him from finding a friend.
"He said he was looking for a person who'd been a member at the church in 1984," said Kolbensvik, a volunteer at the church. "So the church secretary was trying to look it up for him. He said there were a lot of people, really evil, bad people, who didn't want him to find him."
He later asked if the church performs exorcisms, and when the women looked at him in silence for a minute, he quickly said it wasn't for him, Kolbensvik said.
The man identified himself only as "Paul," telling the women he was named after the apostle, Kolbensvik said.
"When he left, I sensed there was something that was just not right about him," she said. "It was like he was casing the church, the way he was looking around."
Sharon Putman, the church secretary, said she was equally disturbed by the man's appearance and bizarre manner.
"When he came in, I just started backing away from him, and I don't do that," she said.
The women's description of the man's car differed slightly in color from Ashbrook's four- door gray Pontiac sedan, which police seized from the church parking lot.
Police said they will investigate the report to determine if the visitor, described as having long, matted hair and a ruddy complexion, was Ashbrook.
If it was, police said, the development could indicate that Ashbrook may have been checking churches and planning his attack for some time.
No other churches have reported a similar visit, and no one at Wedgwood Baptist recognized Ashbrook, police said.
"For them, when it happened, it was like, `Where did that come from?' " Gerland said.
Police acknowledged yesterday that they may never know the motive for the mass killing.
"We know who did it, and we may never know why," said Lt. David Ellis, a police spokesman. "It's just one of those things that we may never know why he chose that church, that community.
"The person who knows why he did it is dead. Obviously he's disturbed. Sometimes it's very difficult to determine a motive or the thought process for a person who is mentally unstable. People with problems like that don't think like you and I or normal citizens do."
The videos show only about a minute of Ashbrook's shooting spree. One video recorded 20 gunshots and the other 24 shots of what police believe was a 10-minute rampage, Mendoza said.
The videotapes do not show anything outside the sanctuary or Ashbrook shooting himself, he said.
Ashbrook reloaded three times during his onslaught and had six loaded 9 mm clips in the pockets of his jacket, officials said.
A clear close-up of Ashbrook's face cannot be seen and his words are muted by noise in the sanctuary, officials said. Witnesses have said he spouted obscenities and denounced their religious beliefs.
"One person taking a video was down on the floor between pews and holding the camera up above the pew," said Gerland, who said he believed that the camera operator had taken cover from the shooting.
"The person on the floor [ then] scooted over and was shooting [video] around the corner of the pew," he said.
Officials said the amateur photographer is a woman who gave the tape to police the day after the shooting.
"I believe everyone in that audience thought it [the killing spree] was part of the skit. I may be wrong," Mendoza said.
Then as the realization dawned that it was not a show, furniture could be heard being overturned as some tried to escape, Gerland said the tapes indicate. The tapes do not depict a chaotic, mad rush for the exits, he said.
"I think there was a mix [of people who thought it was a skit]. You could see the realization dawning on them that this was real," Gerland said.
The Likely Motives of Fort Worth Church Shooter Larry Gene Ashbrook
September 20, 1999
Wedgwood Baptist Church shooter Larry Gene Ashbrook appears to fit the profile of individuals described in the psychopathology literature as "schizotypal" personalities, a pattern described in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association (1994) as "a pervasive pattern of social and interpersonal deficits marked by acute discomfort with, and reduced capacity for, close relationships as well as by cognitive or perceptual distortions and eccentricities of behavior" (p. 641).
Public speculation concerning Ashbrook’s motives converged – incorrectly, I believe – on paranoia and even schizophrenia as possible explanations for his rampage. An exclusive focus on these clinical symptom disorders unnecessarily narrows the conceptual basis for reconstructing the development and dynamics of the mental state that culminated in Ashbrook’s tragic final act. A fuller understanding of the internal forces that drove Ashbrook requires due consideration of his underlying personality pattern.
As noted by Theodore Millon (1996), "[a]ll patterns of pathological personality . . . comprise deeply etched and pervasive characteristics of functioning that unfold as a product of the interplay of constitutional and experiential influences. The behaviors . . . that evolve out of these transactions are embedded so firmly within the individual that they become the very fabric of his or her makeup, operating automatically and insidiously as the individual’s way of life" (p. 609). For this reason, an exclusive focus on Ashbrook’s paranoia at the time of the shooting is to offer a truncated version of the mental state that set the stage for the commission of his indiscriminate, chaotic act of mass murder.
"Present realities," writes Millon (1996), "are often mere catalysts that stir up . . . long-standing habits, memories, and feelings [rooted in personality]. . . . Sooner or later they may prove to be the person’s undoing" (p. 609). Thus, statements by authorities the day after the shooting, that Ashbrook was "emotionally disturbed" and "seemed to have a problem with religion," are not particularly useful. Following is an annotated summary of Millon’s comprehensive account of the clinical features of schizotypal personality disorder.
Expressive behavior: Eccentric
"What is most distinctive about schizotypal personalities is their socially gauche [including unrefined and boorish behavior] and peculiar mannerisms, and their tendency to evince unusual actions and appearances. Many dress in strange and unusual ways, often appearing to prefer a ‘personal uniform’ from day to day. . . . The tendency to keep to peculiar clothing styles sets them apart from their peers. As a consequence of their strange behaviors and appearances, schizotypals are readily perceived by others as aberrant, unobtrusively odd, curious, or bizarre." (p. 634)
Interpersonal conduct: Secretive
"[Schizotypals] prefer privacy and isolation. Unable to achieve a reasonable level of interpersonal comfort and satisfaction, they may have learned to withdraw from social relationships, to draw increasingly into themselves, with just a few tentative attachments and personal obligations. . . . [They tend, over time, to drift] into increasingly peripheral vocational roles, finding a degree of satisfaction in unusual and clandestine social activities." (pp. 624-625)
"[T]he social achievements of the typical schizotypal usually indicate an erratic course, with a failure to make normal progress. Academic and work histories show marked deficits and irregularities, given their intellectual capacities as a base. Not only are they frequent drop outs, but they tend to drift from one job to another and are often separated or divorced, if they ever married. Their deficits in achievement competence derive from and, in part, contribute to their social anxieties and feelings of unworthiness." (p. 625)
"If they do sustain a conversation, they may press it beyond the appropriate or suitable, digressing into highly personal, odd, or metaphoric topics. More commonly, they lack the spark to initiate action or to participate socially, seemingly enclosed and trapped by some force that blocks them from responding to or empathizing with others. This inability . . . to become a member of a real society, and to invest their energies and interests in a world of others, lies at the heart of their pathology" [emphasis added]. (p. 625)
Cognitive style: Disorganized
"Crucial to the pathology of schizotypals is their inability to organize their thoughts, particular in the realm of interpersonal understanding and empathy. . . . They attribute unusual and special significance to peripheral and incidental events, construing what transpires between persons in a manner that signifies a fundamental lack of social comprehension and logic. . . . As a consequence of their misrenderings of the meaning of human interactions, they construct idiosyncratic conceptions regarding the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others. . . . They interpose personal irrelevancies, circumstantial speech, ideas of reference, and metaphorical asides in ordinary social communications. . . . Owing to their problematic information gathering and disorganized processing, their ideas may result in the formation of magical thinking, bodily illusions, odd beliefs, peculiar suspicions, and cognitive blurring that interpenetrates reality with fantasy" (p. 625). The general inability of schizotypal personalities to organize their thoughts accounts for Ashbrook’s so-called "rambling writings," whereas their characteristic cognitive blurring of reality and fantasy provides a frame of reference for Ashbrook’s apparent obsession with serial murder and his unfounded belief that he was a suspected serial murderer.
Individuals with schizotypal personality disorder "develop superstitions, referential ideas, and illusions, and engage at times in frenetic activity. . . . [because they] have enough awareness . . . of life to realize that other people do experience joy, sorrow, and excitement, whereas they, by contrast, are empty and barren. They desire some relatedness, some sensation, and some feeling that they are part of the world about them. . . . Their recurrent illusions, their magical and telepathic thinking, and their ideas of reference may be viewed as a coping effort to fill the spaces of their emptiness, the feeling that they are ‘going under’ and are bereft of all life and meaning." (p. 625)
"Alienated from others and themselves, they too may sense the terror of impending nothingness and of a barren, depersonalized, and nonexistent self. Such feelings prompt them also to engage in bizarre behaviors, beliefs, and perceptions that enable them to reaffirm reality. It is for this reason among others that we observe that ideas of reference, the clairvoyance, the illusions, and the strange ideation that typify the schizotypal." (p. 626)
It seems plausible that the death of Ashbrook’s father in July may have intensified and exacerbated his "terror of impending nothingness and of a barren, depersonalized, and nonexistent self," escalating his bizarre behaviors, beliefs, and perceptions in an increasingly frenetic effort to affirm reality.
"Owing to their unsatisfactory social and cognitive dysfunctions, most schizotypals evidence recurrent social perplexities as well as self-illusions, depersonalization, and dissociation. Many see themselves as alienated from the world around them, as forlorn and estranged beings, with repetitive ruminations about life’s emptiness and meaninglessness. The deficient cognitions and disharmonious affects [emotions] of schizotypals deprive them of the capacity to experience events as something other than lifeless and unfathomable phenomena. They suffer a sense of vapidness in a world of puzzling and washed-out objects. . . . [M]any schizotypals see themselves to be more dead than alive, insubstantial, foreign, and disembodied." (p. 626)
"The inner world of the schizotypal. . . . is almost random, resulting in an ineffective and uncoordinated framework for regulating the patient’s tensions, needs, and goals. Perhaps for the greater part of their lives, . . . [this psychic framework has been] only fitfully competent for accommodating to their world, binding their impulses, and mediating their interpersonal difficulties." (p. 626)
"When motivated or prompted to relate to others, schizotypals are frequently unable to orient their inner dispositions in a logical manner; . . . they become lost in personal irrelevancies and in tangential asides that seem vague, digressive, and with no pertinence to the topic at hand. They are out of touch with others and are unable to order their ideas in terms relevant to reciprocal social communication. The pervasive disjunctiveness of . . . the scattered, circumstantial, and autistic elements of their thinking . . . only further alienates these . . . [individuals] from others." (p. 626)
Regulatory mechanism: Undoing
"[S]chizotypals are often overwhelmed by the dread of total disintegration, implosion, and nonexistence – feelings that may be countered by imposing or constructing new worlds of self-made reality, an idiosyncratic reality composed of superstitions, suspicions, illusions, and so on. The more severe attacks of depersonalization may precipitate psychotic episodes, irrational outbursts in which these patients frantically search to build a sense of reality to fill their vacant existence" [emphasis added]. (p. 626)
Morphologic organization: Fragmented
"If one looks into the organization of the schizotypal’s mind, one is likely to find highly permeable boundaries among psychic components that [in well-adjusted personalities] are commonly well segregated. . . . As a consequence of these less than adequate and poorly constructed defensive operations, primitive thoughts and impulses are usually discharged in a helter-skelter way, more or less directly and in a sequence of desultory actions. The intrinsically defective nature of the schizotypal’s internal structures results in few reality-based sublimations and few successful achievements in life. These defects make the patient vulnerable to further decompensation – even under modest degrees of stress" [emphasis added]. (p. 626)
"The inner structures of the schizotypal may be overwhelmed by excess stimulation. This is likely to occur when social demands and expectations press hard against their preferred uninvolved or withdrawn state. Unable to avoid such external impositions, some schizotypals may react either by ‘blanking out,’ drifting off into another world, or by paranoid or aggressive outbursts." (pp. 626-627)
In the case of Larry Ashbrook, it is easy to see how the loss of his sole social support system in the death of his parents could have precipitated the more-or-less complete breakdown of his already fragile coping mechanisms, resulting in an insidious spiral of personality decompensation and, ultimately, a floridly delusional, paranoid, psychotic episode of tragic proportions.
As Millon writes, "[W]hen external pressures . . . are especially acute, they may react with a massive and psychotic outpouring of primitive impulses, delusional thoughts, hallucinations, and bizarre behaviors." According to Millon, "[m]any schizotypals have stored up intense repressed anxieties and hostilities throughout their lives. Once released, these feelings burst out in a rampaging flood" [emphasis added]. "The backlog of suspicions, fears, and animosities has been ignited and now explodes in a frenzied cathartic discharge." (p. 627)
Larry Ashbrook appears to fit the profile of the "actively detached" schizotypal subtype. The prevailing mood of these individuals is agitated and anxiously watchful; they are "excessively apprehensive and ill at ease, particularly in social encounters." Millon notes that many of these reticent, apprehensive schizotypals "exhibit a distrust of other persons and are suspicious of their motives, a disposition that rarely recedes despite growing familiarity." (p. 627)
Fort Worth Star-Telegram city editor Stephen Kaye has reported that when Ashbrook visited him at the newspaper’s downtown office in August, he was "very cordial" and "very apologetic for bothering me." Ashbrook’s diffident manner suggests that he indeed had an active-detached (i.e., avoidant) schizotypal personality, rather than, say, an antisocial or paranoid personality disorder, as his violent rampage may erroneously lead one to believe in retrospect.
Summary and Formulation
To paraphrase Millon (1996), avoidant schizotypals have given up hope of gaining affection and security. To defend against these anxiety-arousing feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness, and hopelessness, they substitute rational thinking – which would bring them face to face with the "devastating terror of nothingness, the feeling of imminent nonexistence" – with "a ‘make-believe’ world . . . of fantasized persons and objects to which they can safely relate" (p. 629). Larry Ashbrook’s July 31 and August 10 letters to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram just weeks before his rampage offer some clues to the content of the "make-believe" world of his, in which he is a serial murder suspect under surveillance by CIA operatives.
Ultimately, however, the tragic consequences of Ashbrook’s failure to secure public affirmation of his delusional fantasies ("It is obvious that you are uninterested in my story. . . . Is it because you think it implausible or unimportant?" he wrote in his Aug. 10 letter to the Star-Telegram), Ashbrook was overwhelmed by depersonalization anxiety. Millon (1996) writes that when schizotypal individuals are "overwhelmed by the dread of total disintegration, implosion, and nonexistence. . . . [t]hese severe attacks of depersonalization may precipitate wild psychotic outbursts in which the patient frantically searches to reaffirm reality." (p. 623)
As his tenuous controls crumbled, as pressures mounted beyond tolerable limits, it seems that the only remaining option in Ashbrook’s troubled mind to restore his fragile psychic cohesion and affirm the reality of his existence was, in effect, to merge fantasy with reality by joining his shadowy "pseudocommunity" and enacting his primitive anxieties in a wild and chaotic spree of vandalism and mass murder in the real world. Millon (1996) writes, "To counter the anxieties of depersonalization and derealization, they may be driven into excited and bizarre behaviors, contrive peculiar and hallucinating images, and shout utterly unintelligible but beseeching sounds, all in an effort to draw attention and affirm their existence as living beings. They may maneuver irrationally just to evoke a response from others, simply create a stir to prove they are real and not a mirage of empty, floating automatons such as they sense themselves to be." (p. 629)
The pathetic irony of Larry Ashbrook’s life is that he had a real existence. He fired real bullets, injured and killed real victims, and inexorably touched real lives.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Millon, T. (1996). Disorders of Personality: DSM-IV and Beyond (2nd ed). New York: Wiley.