How Close Are We to the Action?

September 22, 2018 | Martin Weber

“Look out your window and see the sunset,” a man called and said to his estranged wife. “Enjoy it, because it’s one of the last sunsets you’ll ever see.”

He wasn’t joking. Several nights later he broke into her home and murdered her and one of their teenage sons. Then he shot himself. Their surviving son witnessed the murder/suicide nightmare.

About 2 a.m. the call from police dispatch awakened me. As I zipped my chaplain jacket and grabbed my badge, I pleaded with God for wisdom. Walking into the station, I met Zach, just in from the murder scene. He was a normal-looking 15-year old, except his pajama shirt oozed fresh blood.

My first task was to tell Zach he couldn’t wash his hands, smeared with the blood of his mother and brother.

Zach protested, “Why not?!”

I didn’t want to tell him that because he was there when the shootings happened, police had to eliminate the possibility he killed all three family members, then blamed his dead father. They thought Zach was innocent, detectives acknowledged to me, but they needed forensics to clear him.

Zach was confused: “They don’t think I did it, do they?”

I explained that police wanted to prove his innocence with a gunshot residue test on his hands. “It’s quick — just swabbing your skin. They’re ready to do it right now, and then you can wash your hands.”

“OK,” he agreed. The detective took Zach away for the test while I waited, praying silently for grace to connect with this poor kid. Soon he was back, and we sat together silently, staring at the wall. Then Zach buried his head in his hands, overwhelmed with shock at the loss of his mother, father and younger brother in one hellish night.

Christ Came to Conquer Death

For victims, survivors and the emergency response agencies dedicated to preserve life, death is the ultimate tragedy. Christ’s mission on Earth was to defeat the author of death: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8, ESV). “Only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14, NLT). So the death of Jesus was a victory!

None of that was apparent to Zach on the darkest night of his young life. As I tried to comfort him, he began to trust me and disclosed the devastating details.

“My brother Josh and I woke up hearing Mom screaming downstairs. It must have been midnight. Then we heard Dad shouting in her bedroom. Josh and I ran downstairs. On the way I grabbed the phone and dialed 911. Josh was a few steps in front of me as we hurried to help Mom.

“Running into the bedroom, he got shot first. Then Mom. I got there as Dad pointed the gun at his own head and pulled the trigger. Just three shots, and that was it.”

His sobbing eyes turned to face me.

“I ran to Mom. She was bleeding and died in my arms. I tried to help Josh, but he was dead too. So was Dad. I was the only one alive when the cops ran in the door. They put me in a police car and made me come here.”

Zach leaned his head on the interrogation table and quietly wept. I stretched my arm around his shoulder. After a while he settled down, like a baby being calmed. I motioned for the detective watching through the window to come in and record Zach’s testimony.

Afterward, Zach inquired in despair, “What’s going to happen to me? I’m all alone now.”

“Life will be tougher than I could explain, Zach,” I acknowledged. “But you will receive lots of love from everybody you know. Friends at school. Teachers too. And if you have a church … .”

I paused, but Zach didn’t respond to that. Not being allowed to promote religious beliefs or practices when a suspect or witness is interviewed, I asked, “Do you have relatives in town?” He did. I asked if he wanted us to make some phone calls. An aunt agreed to take him in.

Outside the police station, a cold and cloudy morning dawned, the first day of the rest of Zach’s life.

Reporters swarmed outside, eager for details. I told Zach, “You don’t have to talk to them. I can take you out the back door where your aunt is waiting.”

Before we went outside, I asked Zach if he would want me to pray for him. He did. Then he disappeared into his aunt’s car. I never saw Zach again.

I hope he found a good church home. A spiritual family as loving as yours — maybe? 

Every day, experiences of life and death, joy and grief, gain and loss, are embedded in the neighborhoods around our churches and along streets where our members live. The question Jesus asks of us at His coming is relevant today —​ "Where were you when I was in need?"

How close are our churches, how close are we, to where the action really is?