Year after attack, Colo. church guard has new goal

Monday, December 08, 2008

By P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press Writer



After a year of accolades that followed her shooting of a gunman who killed two teenage sisters at her church, security guard Jeanne Assam remains "low key" and says she thinks of the family of gunman Matthew Murray.

"He didn't start off to be mixed up and confused. He started off to be a good person but he went down a wrong path," Assam said during a news conference after a church service Sunday. A former police officer, Assam said that now she is hoping to join the Colorado Springs police department.

Assam shot and wounded Murray after he opened fire at New Life Church on Dec. 9, 2007. Murray then killed himself, ending a spree that killed four people in two cities.

Assam said volunteering as an armed security guard at the church remains the highlight of her week.

In the year since the shooting, Assam said, she has received an award from a Second Amendment group, as well as other accolades that include a resolution in the state Legislature. She also met President George W. Bush.

"I don't feel bad about what I had to do," she said. "I'm sad that people died. ... I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. It still feels a little surreal for me for some reason."

Murray began his shooting spree at the Youth With a Mission center in the Denver suburb of Arvada just after midnight Dec. 9. There, he killed Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24.

Hours later, he drove 65 miles south to New Life Church in Colorado Springs and began shooting as worshippers left a Sunday service. Sisters Rachel Works, 16, and Stephanie Works, 18, were killed. A memorial that includes a stone bench and two blue spruce pine trees will be dedicated on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary.

A candlelight vigil is also planned Tuesday in Chisholm, Minn., Johnson's hometown.

"I can't explain why I'm here and two wonderful daughters and sisters aren't here," the teens' father, David Works, told 9,000 people at a service Sunday, with wife, Marie, and daughters Laurie, 19, and Gracie, 12, on stage with him. "All I know is God was with us then and he's with us now."

David Works, who was shot just above the waist and in the leg, has recovered and has returned to work as an IT specialist. After the service, Works said he has written a book in tribute to his daughters.

"You have to rebuild your family again," he said.

He said he misses watching Stephanie play chess with Gracie every night, as well as long philosophical talks with Stephanie. He also misses Rachel and her movies.

"There's no playing chess in the evening anymore," Works said, adding that counseling has helped him to not assign his surviving daughters the former roles of Stephanie and Rachel.

During his sermon, Pastor Brady Boyd talked about mourning and how the congregation has had to grieve the death of the Works' sisters and the loss of founding pastor Ted Haggard, who resigned two years ago amid a homosexual sex and drug scandal.

"Where death happened, life will spring up," Boyd said, later adding: "The best is yet to come at New Life."

After the service, Boyd and parishioners said Assam's heroics were miraculous. Boyd called it a "David and Goliath" moment.

Wearing a trench coat and carrying an assault rifle, Murray opened fire in the church complex's parking lot and headed into the church. He walked past a playground, which church spokeswoman Amie Streater said was empty that day because it had been snowing, and entered a hallway that led toward the sanctuary past a children's worship area.

Outgunned and stationed near the children, Assam stepped out from a doorway, confronted the gunman and then fired 10 shots from 63 feet away, hitting Murray once in the wrist and twice in a leg. Murray died in the hallway barely 40 feet from where he entered.

"There was no earthly reason why more people shouldn't have died," said June Gordon, 51, with tears welling up as she recalled the horror of the day. "I just know it was God."

"There were too many things to happen that went right for there to have been a coincidence, an accident," said her husband, Russ Gordon. "We really believe that was divine."

In addition to David Works, two others were wounded at New Life. A gray column in the hallway where Murray fell has slight discolorations where Streater said bullet holes had been patched.

Assam has said she is writing a book about the role forgiveness has played in her life, but she didn't talk about it Sunday. In the days after the shooting, much was made about her single status, which Boyd said resulted in a flood of e-mails to the church from interested men.

When asked if she had met anyone, Assam replied, "No, I have not yet, which is just fine."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.