“Was my family there?”
These were the first words echoing through the mind of Oklahoma Christian University junior Andrew Biggers when he heard about the shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019.
“My mom and her side of the family grew up going to West Freeway Church of Christ, and naturally, those who live in Fort Worth still go there,” Biggers said. “An uncle that I have goes there; my cousins attend as well. Also, my aunt still goes every now and then, and my grandparents are regular attenders.”
That Sunday, not one member of his family was in attendance.
“Thankfully, my grandfather was sick, so my grandmother did not go, and my uncle stayed home with them,” Biggers said.
As church members prepared to serve communion on Dec. 29, 43-year-old Keith Thomas Kinnunen slipped into the service disguised with a fake beard and long wig. After sitting down for a few minutes, Kinnunen brandished a weapon and fatally shot two church members. It took just six seconds for Jack Wilson, a firearms instructor and armed member of the church security team, to shoot the gunman dead.
While Kinnunen’s motive remains unclear, West Freeway minister Britt Farmer said in an interview with The Christian Chronicle that the shooter regularly came to the church to ask for money, but was instead offered help in the form of clothes and food.
West Freeway Church of Christ is a place cherished by many, including Biggers.
“There are very few places I can say I have been to where I have had some unforgettable great times and also some really tragic times,” Biggers said. “I used to go to Vacation Bible School [at West Freeway], and my aunt’s funeral was held there as well. It is a really important place to my family.”
Even though they were not there, Biggers’ family still felt the pain of those in attendance. He said their family was close with the first victim shot, 67-year-old Richard White.
“They did know and were personal friends with the first victim who was shot,” Biggers said. “The first victim was also a family friend of Jake Jennings.”
Oklahoma Christian sophomore Jake Jennings attended West Freeway Church of Christ until he was 15 years old.
“My first reaction was shock,” Jennings said. “It didn’t feel real at the time; I just sat there asking if they were joking. I couldn’t believe they were serious.”
Jennings said he often visited with the older members of the church when attending, including White.
“When you go to a church for a while, you talk to the older people and get to know them,” Jennings said. “Rich would give me a piece of gum every Sunday, and we would always talk for a while. Outside of church, I didn’t know him, but we always talked when we were at church.”
“It just as easily could have been your church back home or my church that I currently attend, and that’s what is scary,” Biggers said. “These people don’t wear a uniform; their motives are rarely made known to the full extent, and it is truly an epidemic. Because of this, I have a much more vested interest in this epidemic than I did before.”
In addition to his new sense of solidarity for those affected by these shootings, Biggers believes something needs to also change within those who are not affected.
“Social media kind of hinders the full effect or gravity of the situation,” Biggers said. “It’s either people saying the same thing—that we need to ban guns and that this is the solution—or they’re making memes about it. It has become a joke, and people have grown so desensitized to it.”
A candlelight vigil was held in remembrance of the two victims on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019, outside the church. On the same evening, members squeezed into the auditorium where the shooting occurred to pray, sing and grieve.