|Pennsylvania shooting victim had strong faith|
Overmier worked with children at First United Methodist Church in
Bridgeville, Pa. A UMNS photo courtesy of Bridgeville First United
By Jackie Campbell*
August 6, 2009 | BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. (UMNS)
Faith was a huge part of the life of Heidi Overmier, one of three
women murdered in a shooting rampage in this Pittsburgh suburb.
Overmier, 46, wrote and directed the children’s Christmas plays and
was a mainstay of the youth ministries at First United Methodist Church.
“She was one of the most amazing people. She just gave and gave and
gave. She came to Bible school every night last week just to help out,
even though her son was out of town,” said her friend Virginia Basile.
“She took pictures of every single child and made frames to put them in
so everyone would get one.”
As she spoke, Basile was putting together a slideshow celebrating
her friend’s life. Like others in the community, she was both mourning
the tragic loss of life and seeking to be a healing presence in the
wake of the Aug. 4 shootings at a health club a few miles from the
Overmier was one of two United Methodists killed by George Sodini, a
48-year-old law firm systems analyst who police say carried out a plan
to randomly kill women at his gym and then take his own life. Sodini
wrote about his plan on a blog, where he told of feeling isolated,
rejected and angry with women. Nine other women in an exercise class at
L.A. Fitness were wounded in the barrage of bullets before he turned
the third of four handguns carried in a duffel bag on himself.
Another of the victims, Jody Billingsley, 37, was a member of
Sugarcreek United Methodist Church, about two hours north of
Pittsburgh. A physical therapist and former basketball player for the
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, she lived in the Pittsburgh area
for several years and traveled around the country selling and
demonstrating medical equipment.
Prayer service planned
Pittsburgh Area Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton will be among those
attending a prayer service at the L.A. Fitness Club on Aug. 7. The Rev.
Josephine Whitely-Fields, First United Methodist pastor, and the Rev.
Jonathan Fehl, pastor of the Bridgeville campus of Crossroads United
Methodist Church, also will participate in the service being arranged
by local clergy.
In a statement, Bickerton called for prayer.
“Pray for Heidi Overmier and Jody Billingsley and their families.
Pray for the congregations at Bridgeville and Sugarcreek who will be
ministering to them. Pray for the Revs. John King and Josephine
Whitely-Fields as they minister to their people. Pray for the family
and friends of (shooting victim) Elizabeth Gannon, for those who were
hospitalized, and the scores of others who have been traumatized by
this tragedy. Pray for George Sodini’s family and friends as they deal
with the inevitable confusion and humiliation they feel,” Bickerton
A funeral service for Overmier is planned for Aug. 8, the day she was to attend a friend’s wedding.
“A bunch of us were going,” Basile said. “Heidi was so excited and so happy for them.”
Overmier was remembered as a woman devoted to God and her
16-year-old son, Ian, a member of the Washington District Youth Council.
“Faith was a huge part of her life and his also,” said the Rev. Ed
Saxman, pastor of the church until June 1. “If she was in town, she was
in church and so was he. There was no question.”
Everyone at the church looked forward to the children’s Christmas
plays she wrote and directed, said Whitely-Fields, the current pastor
who will lead the funeral service.
Rock of faith
The tragedy is difficult to understand, church leaders said, but faith can help people heal.
“We sit on the rock of a faith. We believe that even death cannot
separate us from the love God has for us. Jesus himself promised to go
and prepare a place for us – a place where there is no fear of random
shooting and violent death,” Bickerton said. “Today, we kneel in
prayer, believing that our petitions are not made aimlessly into the
clouds, but fully registered in the loving presence of a God who can do
all things to strengthen and restore broken lives.”
Saxman said the shooting rampage “clarifies just how important the
church is in our society. It’s up to us to see that things like this
don’t happen – to see the George Sodinis of the world and reach out to
them with the message of love and hope.
“They are all children of God, and if we can see God in every
person, then they begin to value themselves. If some way the miracle of
God’s presence allows love to come through, that prohibits these kinds
of things from happening,” he said.
*Campbell is a communications director for the Western Pennsylvania Conference.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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