Pastors provide spiritual comfort during hostage crisis
9/19/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
A UMNS Report
By Cathy Farmer*
During the harrowing hours of a hostage crisis in Dyersburg,
Tenn., United Methodist pastors were in ministry in the thick of the
conflict - to the police chief, the family of the hostage-taker and one
of the shooting victims.
United Methodist pastor Earl Dickerson
Jr. stood by Bobby Williamson, Dyersburg police chief and lay leader of
East Dyersburg United Methodist Church, during the Sept. 17 hostage
crisis at Dyersburg State Community College.
pastor Daniel Tilly spent the tense hours of the nine-hour stand-off
with the family of John Johnson, one of the students shot when the
police Special Response Team rushed into the Eller Administration
Building classroom to rescue the remaining hostages.
Methodist pastor Russell Morrow Sr., said God gave him the assignment
that night to stay with the mother and family of hostage-taker Harold
Kilpatrick Jr., 26.
"Harold and Theresa Johnson, the parents of
John Johnson, joined Center United Methodist Church last Sunday," said
Tilly, pastor of the Center-Rehoboth Charge. "They moved to Dyersburg
because Harold is the new assistant football coach at Dyer County High
Harold and Theresa's son, John, and his wife, Jennifer,
were among the 14 students held hostage when Kilpatrick rushed into
their math class wielding a semi-automatic pistol and a butcher knife.
let Jennifer leave the room when she told him she needed to go to the
restroom," Tilly said. "He told her to come back in 15 minutes or he'd
start shooting the other hostages. But the police grabbed her and didn't
let her return."
Tilly said Jennifer told him Kilpatrick was using her as a human shield to protect himself from police bullets.
prayed with the family all afternoon," Tilly said. "Kilpatrick seemed
to calm down so we really thought there was going to be a peaceful
ending. But as soon as I went home, it exploded. I rushed back (John had
been shot in the leg and abdomen) and met the parents at the emergency
room. We spent hours in prayer."
Kilpatrick held the classroom
captive for nine hours before a Special Response Team moved in to rescue
the students, killing him in the process. Kilpatrick had a history of
mental problems and had not been taking his prescribed medication,
according to news reports.
Earl Dickerson, pastor of East
Dyersburg United Methodist Church and a police chaplain, said Chief of
Police Bobby Williamson had to make the decision to send in the Special
"When shots are fired, you go in shooting to save
the hostages," Dickerson said. "I was praying with the chief. He didn't
want to do it, both for the sake of the hostage-taker and for the sake
of the officers. Statistics show that when an officer has to kill
someone, within five years, if they don't receive professional
intervention, 85 percent are no longer on the force."
East Dyersburg Church's lay leader, has always been greatly concerned
for the emotional and spiritual health of his officers.
said Kilpatrick was only the second civilian to be killed by police
while Williamson has been chief. "And he's the longest-serving police
chief in Tennessee.
Nobody wanted that shot fired.
"I spent a
half-hour with Bobby after it was all over, loving on him," Dickerson
said. "I reminded him that we were all praying for him and love him."
Morrow, pastor of the Ross-Hughlett Charge in Dyersburg, stayed with
Kilpatrick's mother, family and friends. "God gave me that assignment,"
the police chaplain said.
"When his mother was told he was dead,
she began to wail from deep within," Morrow said. "It was a really
painful moment, that moan coming from deep down in her belly. They had
to sedate her. When the nurse was getting ready to start the IV, she
told her it would hurt, but his mother said, 'This pain is nothing
compared to the loss of my child.'"
Morrow, Dickerson and Tilly - three United Methodist pastors, three grieving families, one faith.
# # #
*Farmer is director of communications for the Memphis Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church.
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