July 27th kind of sneaks up on me now. My son was born on July 27, 1991. We weren’t getting along particularly well three years ago. He had moved in with his girlfriend a week before his 18th birthday. I got the feeling things were about to be reconciled between us. He called and invited me over to have some cake and ice cream to celebrate. I was looking forward to seeing him. I had missed him and was looking forward to getting along with my 6 foot, 215 lbs little guy. I told him we would be over after church.
We didn’t make it to his party. I could have never foreseen what would transpire that Sunday morning.
Jaime and I had found a new church home. We were very happy to be among other enlightened people. Their kindness and giving was sincere. Their quest for social justice was pure and unselfish. I looked forward to hearing Rev. Chris Buice offer his sermon each Sunday. For one thing, the guy always made me laugh. He also had a unique way of presenting the obstacles of the world and offering reasonable and creative solutions to facing those obstacles. Chris was away on vacation, and the youth were presenting the play “Annie” instead of their normal service. Jaime was interested; I was kind of iffy.
I’m perpetually late for everything. Wouldn’t you know it, we were late that Sunday too. We parked at the 2nd Presbyterian Church parking lot, and walked in the rear door to the church breezeway. Jaime says as we entered, a man was entering in the front door of the breezeway. As we came together to enter the sanctuary, I barely paid him notice. Jaime didn’t recognize him, but carrying a guitar case, she thought he would be one of the performers in the play.
We normally entered the sanctuary on the right. As we started to enter, we were stopped by Daddy Warbucks. He and other characters were lining up on the right to enter the sanctuary and he asked the we go to the left side and wait for a break to enter. I’m kind of hard of hearing and didn’t quite understand him. When he repeated himself I thought him to be quite rude. We moved to the left side waiting to enter. I was kind of miffed and seriously considered leaving, however, the scene that was playing really impressed me and I remember smiling and thinking what a great job these kids were doing. So much can change so quickly…
Rather than re-hash the events of three years ago, I’ll let you read my details of the events from three years ago. It was published in the Nashville’s Out & About Newspaper. I don’t know why, or how it even got there. I just remember that someone suggested I write down what happened while it was still fresh in my mind. I can’t read it now, nor do I want to. There was also a follow-up interview on the Michelangelo Signorile show. I don’t interview well, but the video is below.
Jaime and I were running late to church Sunday morning. This is usual – it’s always me that takes too long. Driving to TVUUC, I was wondering if I really wanted to go. I really like the “sermons” or “lectures” about society or philosophy but this was going to be a children’s musical program and I just didn’t know if it was for me.
The breezeway of the church has an opening in the middle that leads to a foyer for the sanctuary. The entrance is split. You can enter through double-doors to the right to or to the left. The sun was especially bright so Jaime and I decided to go to the left side. We started to walk in as the production was underway and was quickly pulled back by John Bohstedt, who looked very much like Daddy Warbucks.
We were asked to stand by the door and to seat ourselves after the first act. I’m hard of hearing and Jaime and I walked to the main foyer door. He motioned us back. As we walked back to the sanctuary, I saw someone walk behind me. My mind keeps telling me it was the shooter, but I didn’t give a second look.
The Annie character was just finishing “Maybe”. I was thinking, “this is really good.” The Miss Hannigan character walked in stage left and slapped a basket Annie was holding out of her hand. From the sanctuary right entrance, I thought I hear yelling and a loud BOOM of an explosion.
My mind tried to register the sound. I was thinking, “Did a speaker explode? Did I hear a prop gun? Did something go wrong?” and as soon as that thought left my mind I smelled the sulfur from the gunpowder and heard another BOOM and then BOOM. I left go of Jaime’s hand and stepped around the corner just as John Bohstedt tackled the shooter. Immediately two others were on top of him.
As he hit the ground shotgun shells went everywhere. The gun landed upside down against a bag or some other object on the floor. There was a shell halfway in the ejection port. It didn’t look spent. He must have been trying to shove a shell straight into the chamber to take another shot.
It seemed like an eternity, but it was only a few seconds. Jaime and I were grabbed by several church members and pulled into a room. I opened the door to look out and someone yelled at me to get on the floor. I couldn’t. I grabbed Jaime’s hand and we went through the foyer and out the back door.
In the minutes leading up to when the police arrived Jaime and I saw children with escorts looking for their parents. We saw children and adults with blood on their clothes. We saw the worst side of human cruelty we had ever seen. We knew people had been shot but we didn’t know who.
We eventually gathered with the rest of the church family on a hill behind the sanctuary. Most of the children were in safe hands at the Second Presbyterian Church next door. While we were congregated together I noticed our friend. She is a transgender youth. She told us that Greg, her foster father, had been hit. That really hit home.
Just two weeks earlier Greg McKendry and his wife Barbara and their trans-foster child were at our home celebrating Jaime’s birthday. I really liked Greg and to think someone could hurt him was very troubling.
The police gathered everyone together in the fellowship hall to tell us what to expect. The police identified the types of witnesses they wanted and eventually dismissed everyone. As Jaime and I stood by the door, Barbara McKendry came walking by. She stopped to give both of us a hug and said, “Greg got hit. He’s dead.”
Oh God! My heart just broke and Jaime and I couldn’t hold it together anymore. How could this happen to group of people as loving as the members of TVUUC? I needed an answer. I had to know why.
Today, we found out why when some of the contents of the killer’s letter were revealed. A supposed hatred for the liberal establishment and “gays”. Yes, TVUUC, embraced gays and the entire GLBT community. Jaime is the president of PFLAG which meets at TVUUC, and a group of local transgender people and I had just started a new organization which meets at TVUUC. As a matter of fact, Jaime and I met at TVUUC in October 1999, at a transgender support group at TVUUC.
This church has always loved everyone in the community and would turn their back on no one. Jaime and I hope that this resolves quickly so that we can get back to rebuilding lives and rebuilding our church’s spirit.