Rock band returns to scene of Texas church killings
Gunman entered as musicians finished a song, confusing victims
September 18, 1999
FORT WORTH, Texas (CNN) -- The spotlight in a Fort Worth church was on a Christian rock band, which had just finished a song when a crazed gunman slipped into the darkened sanctuary.
The timing of Larry Ashbrook's entrance confused most of the people inside, who thought the shooting was part of an act, including guitarist Joel Warren, who returned with band members to the scene of the Wednesday night shootings.
"The kids thought it was something we were doing. We thought it was something they were doing," he said.
Police escorted "Forty Days" members through the sanctuary on Friday. In the light of day, they realized how narrowly they had avoided becoming additional victims. Eight peopled died in the shooting, including Ashbrook, who committed suicide.
Warren counted 15 bullet holes in the wall behind where the band played. "One (bullet) went in the organ which I was hiding behind," Warren said.
The tour took an emotional toll on the band and their families, who "all just broke down and cried," Warren said.
The five-member band was just completing a song when they heard several bangs, which they now think were shots Ashbrook fired at people in the hallway before heading for the sanctuary.
At the time, they guessed the noise was caused by equipment problems.
When Ashbrook barged into the sanctuary and began shooting victims in pews, Warren thought the gun was fake; he didn't see anybody falling or bullets striking the wall. Eventually, the band members hid.
Ralph Mendoza, acting chief of the Fort Worth Police Department, said the gunman apparently recognized that many members of the audience did not understand what was happening.
"One of the witnesses (reportedly heard) the gunman say, 'This is real,' which is an indication to us that even the gunman realized that nobody thought he was serious," Mendoza told reporters.
Marcelo Hernandez, a Sunday school teacher at the church, watched the commotion as he hid between the pews at the rear of the church, near the pacing gunman.
Hernandez said, "What was scary for me, because we were the very back row in our section, is glancing back and seeing the gun shells drop, and the gentleman loading another clip onto the gun, and then the shooting would start again.
"And (wondering) whether he was going to reach under that bench and start shooting there; that was very scary -- very scary."
Day 'of phenomenal sadness' for church massacre mourners
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