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Colorado man chooses forgiveness

Posted on September 18th, 2009

EMU Seminar Helped Works Rebuild Life

By Tom Mitchell, Daily News-Record

David Works speaks at EMU university chapel
David Works speaks in university chapel Friday, Sept. 18, on his decision not to pursue revenge for his daughters’ murders but to work toward reconciliation and healing. (Photo by Lindsey Grosh)

The catastrophe that brought unimaginable grief to David Works and his family less than two years ago left him at an emotional fork in the road.

On Dec. 9, 2007, a former church worker shot two of Works’ daughters to death in a vengeful hail of gunfire while leaving a worship service.

“I had a choice to forgive or not forgive,” Works said Wednesday while speaking at Eastern Mennonite University’s campus center. “I decided that I did not want to go down the road of unforgiveness.”

Works came to Harrisonburg for EMU’s Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience program. EMU created STAR in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He credits a similar seminar with helping him forgive Matthew Murray, 24, the man who killed Works’ daughters in the parking lot of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Works attended a clinic titled “Coming to the Table,” a gathering of black and white descendants of Thomas Jefferson at EMU in January 2006. “Coming to the Table” used the topic of slavery to focus on forgiveness and reconciliation.

Works and his wife, Marie, have recounted their tragedy to the media numerous times, speaking on such venues as TV’s “Good Morning America.” The couple’s recent book, “Gone in a Heartbeat: Our Daughters Died, Our Faith Endures,” describes the attack and the grief they and their two surviving daughters endured.

In A Flash

David Works
David Works speaks during a trauma awareness training program Wednesday at EMU in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Michael Reilly)

The trouble began as Works and his family were getting into their minivan after a service at New Hope, a megachurch of 10,000 members.

“I heard a loud crack,” Works said. “We were evidently the first people [Murray] saw. We were caught off guard. It was sheer terror.”

Armed with a 1,000-round AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, Murray fired into the van, hitting Works’ 18-year-old daughter, Stephanie. Works didn’t see that because he was already bolting from the van to protect daughter Rachel, 16, who was in easy range of Murray, who then shot her.

The entire shooting lasted seven minutes, Works said, adding that Murray fired 40 to 50 shots.

Bullets whizzed by and then two shots struck him, one above the belt and another in his leg. It could have been worse.

“I was turned sideways to the shots, or I probably would have been killed, too,” Works said.

Stephanie died at the scene while Rachel succumbed nine hours later. Unharmed were Works’ wife and two other daughters, Stephanie’s twin, Laurie, and 11-year-old Grace.

Minutes later, Murray charged into the church, spraying gunfire there. He wounded one person before the church’s security guard, Jeanne Assam, shot Murray several times. Murray then fatally shot himself.

Works said he and his family wrestled with grief for months.

“Christmas was especially hard,” he said. “We almost didn’t have one.”

Making The ‘Right’ Choice

But Works has worked to come to terms with the tragedy, and along the way maybe help others.

Attending EMU’s “Coming to the Table” event, he said, helped him make the right decision about how to handle his rage.

“It helped me break out of my anger,” Works said.

In the months since the shootings, the Works family has met with and grown close to Murray’s family.

Elaine Zook Barge, director of the STAR program, commends Works’ will to conquer hate.

“David is the first person I’ve known to choose to use the cycle of violence preventively, to make a deliberate choice not to continue the cycle,” Barge said. “His response to this incredible tragedy might have been so different had he not been aware of trauma and what can happen.”

The Rev. Luke Schrock-Hurst, who with wife Carmen co-pastors Immanuel Mennonite Church, called Works’ story “gripping.” Works spoke Sunday at Immanuel Mennonite Church’s worship service, sparing few details about the attack.

“David showed us the rawness of dealing with his loss,” Schrock-Hurst said. “It was a tremendous testimony to the power of God’s spirit, enabling a family to get beyond their grief and sorrow and forgive.”

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