FORT WORTH (Star-Telegram) — Seven-year-old Gina Linam winked at her mother as she sat with a friend on the back pew at First Baptist Church in Daingerfield.
That would be the last gesture between Linam and her mother, Cheryl Hendrick, on the morning of June 22, 1980.
Thirty seconds later, Alvin Lee King III, 45, smashed through the back doors of the church and yelled, “This is war.”
In a hail of gunfire, Linam and four others were shot to death and several were wounded before King was subdued.
“I felt safe in a church back then,” Hendrick said in a telephone interview this week. “But we are not safe anywhere anymore.”
For that reason, Hendrick has given her testimony to churches nationwide about the shooting and the importance of being prepared for violence.
The Linden mother will give her testimony once more in Fort Worth, where she will be one of the keynote speakers at a two-day seminar on church safety at Wedgwood Baptist Church.
A gunman went on a rampage at Wedgwood on Sept. 15, 1999, killing seven and wounding seven.
More than 350 church members from across the country are expected to attend the conference, where the speakers will include pastors, church safety experts and victims of church violence.
The seminar, presented by Cop & Cross Ministries, comes amid a rise in such violence.
Last year, 75 people were killed at churches in the U.S., experts say. Just last week, four members of St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church in Albuquerque were stabbed by a man before he was subdued.
“We want churches to have some type of safety plan,” said Hurst police Cpl. Jimmy Meeks, one of the organizers of the seminar and a 32-year police veteran. “At this seminar, we’ll show churches why there is a need for concern.”
No other church would know that better than Wedgwood, where Larry Gene Ashbrook opened fire at a group of young people in 1999 before killing himself.
Pastor Al Meredith didn’t hesitate to host the seminar. He was pastor at the time of the shooting.
“If you stuff it all back, it will come back and bite you,” he said. “That’s why we came right back and had a service on the Sunday after the shooting.”
On Monday, the seminar will focus on helping those affected by crimes and violent acts at churches. Tuesday will include presentations on child predators, security plans and church safety.
Hendrick noted that anyone can become a victim in an instant — at schools, churches or businesses.
“It’s been proven that so many people have no respect for life,” Hendrick said. “That’s why we need to prepare.”