FORT WORTH - Jeff Laster has a noteworthy anniversary coming up Tuesday, but he's not planning to celebrate.
VERNON BRYANT/DMNWedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth constructed a memorial to honor the people killed 10 years ago when a gunman walked into the church during a youth service.
Laster, 44, was the first person Larry Gene Ashbrook shot on Sept. 15, 1999, when Ashbrook walked into Wedgwood Baptist Church and opened fire at a Wednesday night youth service. Before turning the gun on himself, Ashbrook killed seven people and wounded seven others.
"Really, over the 10 years, I've never had panic attacks or nightmares," said Laster, who was shot in his left side and arm. "I don't know that I think about it on the anniversary more than I do any other day."
Wedgwood will hold special services Sunday to honor the victims and will keep the church open all day Tuesday for those who want to come by and pray or meditate.
In front of the West Fort Worth sanctuary sits a simple, but powerful, black granite memorial etched with the names and faces of those slain, along with their favorite Bible verses.
A few feet away, inside the church on the walls of the front foyer, there are still slightly visible traces where bullets hit. Other than that, the sprawling church has not bowed to the tragedy and is as open and on the move as it ever was.
Though she no longer attends Wedgwood, Rebekah Laird will always have a permanent connection to her childhood church and to the events of Sept. 15, 1999.
Then 15 years old, she was inside the sanctuary when Ashbrook walked in. She didn't know it then, but her future husband was also inside.
After the shooting stopped, Rebekah walked away. But Justin Laird, who was visiting from another church and was celebrating his 16th birthday that day, never did. He was shot twice and paralyzed from the neck down. The two later met when Rebekah had knee surgery and wound up at the same rehabilitation center as Justin. Eventually they began dating.
"It's kind of amazing how God works," Rebekah said. "It was a tragic event, but I did meet Justin and we did fall in love and get married. It changed his life in a different way than it changed my life. But it is amazing how God has used us in all of this."
Ten years ago, Jay Fannin was youth minister at Wedgwood, the same position he holds today. He said he never considered leaving the church or the young people there because "Wedgwood is like family."
"Leaving the kids who were there that night would be abandonment, practically," said Fannin, 37. "Even today, I've got seniors in high school who were 7 and 8 years old when the shooting happened, but they're still part of the church and they remember running by kids who were shot.
"It's still a part of the kids' lives."
People killed in the Wedgwood shooting
Kristi Kathleen Beckel, 14
Shawn Christopher Brown, 23
Sydney Rochelle Browning, 36
Joseph Daniel "Joey" Ennis, 14
Cassandra Fawn Griffin, 14
Susan Kimberly "Kim" Jones, 23
Justin Michael "Steggy" Ray, 17