Support group member warned FBI of church attack
DENVER ” A member of an online support group that Matthew Murray reportedly participated in alerted federal authorities to ominous anti-Christian postings before Murray went on a shooting rampage at a Colorado church, the online forum’s administrator claims.
Joe Istre, president of the Association of Former Pentecostals, which operates the online site, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he and other forum participants had grown familiar with the frequent and disturbingly dark poetry and obsessions of one participant, whose nickname was nghtmrchld26.
But when that same author ” believed to be Murray ” posted Sunday that he wanted to kill Christians, a forum participant immediately contacted the FBI, Istre said.
Istre said he received a message from a board member at 12:38 p.m. confirming the forum member had contacted the FBI, about a half-hour before the bloodshed at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
Denver FBI spokeswoman Rene Vonder Haar said the agency began an investigation immediately after receiving a phone call at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, but she refused to discuss the nature of the call. Vonder Haar said the information was passed on to police in Arvada, where two members of a missionary training center had been killed earlier Sunday, and Colorado Springs.
But Colorado Springs police Sgt. Scott Schwall said police there didn’t learn the Murray family home’s address in Englewood until after the church shootings, and that a search did not begin until after dark.
He said the department received some information from the FBI well after the New Life shooting took place. He also declined to say what the information was.
Arvada police spokeswoman Susan Medina confirmed that the FBI passed on information regarding the mission center shootings about 10:30 a.m. She would not discuss the information in detail but said “we began work on that tip immediately.”
Medina said Arvada detectives did not go to Murray’s home and speak to his family until 3 p.m., well after the second attack. Medina said police cannot say with certainty who nghtmrchld26 is.
Istre also said his forum agreed to turn over all relevant information, and provided the FBI the Internet Protocol address of nghtmrchld26 to help confirm the poster’s identity.
“My reaction was disbelief, but then almost horror,” Istre said of Murray’s violence. “This guy was posting on our forums, and we are a support group out to help people, to try to get them to calm their fears and get them into a productive life. And here we are conversing with a dude who was a killer.”
Ultimately, Istre said he believes the forum helped the 24-year-old man, and he doesn’t know what more the group could have done to prevent the bloodshed.
“My gut instinct is that he was coming on our forums and posting all this stuff to provoke a negative reaction to where he’d be rejected again, so he can have another trophy, to say, ‘I’ve been rejected by another organization, so here is my chance to strike back at the world.’
“I think in our organization he discovered an acceptance he probably never ran into.”
Meanwhile, two services were planned Wednesday to remember the four people killed Sunday.
Members of Youth With A Mission in Arvada were to gather at 10 a.m. Later, members of New Life Church were to meet to worship, pray and mourn the two teenage girls killed by Murray there.
An autopsy Tuesday determined that Murray killed himself with a bullet to the head after he was brought down by gunfire from a volunteer security guard at the church, authorities said.
Murray was dismissed from Youth With a Mission in 2002 for what the training center has described only as health reasons. Youth With a Mission maintains an office at New Life Church’s World Prayer Center.
The gunman’s online rants make passing references both to New Life and founding pastor Ted Haggard, who was dismissed last year after a former male prostitute alleged a relationship with him.
The online threats appear to include whole passages lifted from a manifesto written by Eric Harris, one of the teens who carried out the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School ” 13 miles from Murray’s hometown.
In the weeks before the shooting, nghtmrchld26 posted a number of messages about his own pain, despair and fury toward Christianity.
One post, called “My YWAM Horror Story,” complained about being removed from the Arvada youth mission program.
“Why was I told that I couldn’t be a missionary because I wasn’t ‘social enough’? I was told that I was ‘an introvert,”‘ nghtmrchld26 wrote. “Everyone else got to go on their outreaches except for a few who lied about smoking (cigarettes). The authoritarianism and hypocrisy is outrageous.”
More details on how several victims died also emerged Tuesday. The coroner’s office said Stephanie Works, 18, and her sister Rachael, 16, were each killed by a single gunshot to the torso. They were shot outside New Life Church.
Tiffany Johnson, 26, was shot at the Arvada mission. She survived the ride to the hospital and tried to describe the gunman to an official in the ambulance, her father, Tom Johnson, told the AP. But she had been shot eight times, Johnson said.
He was told his daughter died on the operating table.
On Tuesday night, friends and parishioners of Murray’s uncle, Phil Abeyta, gathered at the church where he serves as pastor to pray for victims, the Murray family and Matthew Murray.
“They are grateful for your love and support,” Abeyta said of the Murray family as he addressed the gathering of about 70 at His Love Fellowship.
He said the family spent Tuesday quietly, “in reflection and prayer for the families of the victims and those who were injured,” Abeyta said.
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