‘The mass shooting that would end mass shootings’ didn’t
When a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in…
TULSA, Okla. — Shock. Tears. Prayers. Talk about guns.
All ripple through The Park Church of Christ, a 2,000-member congregation that is a microcosm of Tulsa, as yet another American city mourns lives lost in a mass shooting.
“A few days ago, we all found ourselves in a heartbroken state,” Dr. Joe Reese, a church elder and former Saint Francis Health System chief of staff, said as grieving members gathered for worship Sunday.
“While we see things on the news, it seems far away. But it really hit home and has hurt … when we see that four innocent Tulsans lost their lives,” added Reese, who knew two of those killed and led a special prayer for the victims’ families, medical professionals and first responders.
On the heels of a May 14 supermarket barrage in which 10 people died in Buffalo, N.Y., and a May 24 school massacre that claimed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, a gunman opened fire last week in a medical office in Oklahoma’s second-largest city.
Dr. Preston Phillips, 59; Dr. Stephanie Husen, 48; receptionist Amanda Glenn, 40; and clinic visitor William Love, 73, were shot to death in a building on the Saint Francis campus.
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Michael Louis, 45, armed with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle and a handgun, targeted his back surgeon — Phillips — after complaining of pain from a recent procedure, police reported.
The shooter killed himself as officers responded to the attack just before 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to authorities. A note left by Louis detailed his intent to kill the surgeon and anyone who got in his way, the police report said.
The deaths jolted members of The Park — the home congregation of Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin and dozens of Saint Francis staff.
In an interview with The Christian Chronicle, Reese, an internal medicine specialist, said he had served on Saint Francis’ board of directors with Phillips and often ate breakfast with him.
“He was a great man of faith,” Reese said of the surgeon, who traveled on medical mission trips to Togo, West Africa, with a Tulsa-based nonprofit, Light in the World Development Foundation.
Reese knew Husen, too, and described the orthopedist as a “go-to person” for his patients with pain issues not requiring surgery.
At a news conference Thursday, Franklin, a 25-year police veteran, expressed appreciation for his officers and sympathy for families dealing with “this senseless tragedy.”
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The chief, whose department comprises 800 officers serving a city of 400,000, pointed to the importance of prayer, saying, “We pray because we all need prayer.”
“The surrounding love of my church community is what keeps me going,” Franklin said after Sunday’s service. “It’s important this week. It’s important every week. But I’ve certainly felt it this week.”
Church member Andrea Hancock works as a surgery assistant at Saint Francis and recalls Phillips as “a truly remarkable man.”
Hancock’s desire to show love for her shaken colleagues inspired The Park church to provide meals for the operating room staff Thursday.
“You feel so helpless whenever that trauma happens, and she wanted to do something,” said Will Spoon, the church’s minister of hospitality. “I said, ‘We can feed them.’”
Spoon ordered enough sandwiches from Lambrusco’z Deli, a Tulsa favorite, to feed both day shifts — about 125 to 150 anesthesiologists, doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff members.
The Natalie Building, site of the shooting, is a place Spoon and his family have visited often.
“My children got tubes in their ears in that building,” he said. “I think it does make it more real.”
Church member Rendi Vail, a grandmother of three, works in a dental office in an adjoining building. She usually carries a handgun in her purse but had taken it out that day because she had a doctor’s appointment.
Although apprehensive because she didn’t know if police had caught the shooter, Vail said, she felt a need — a providential urging, she believes in retrospect — to see if she could help anyone evacuated to her building.
Even as police cars kept arriving and sirens wailed between the buildings, Vail made her way to her lobby, where she encountered a crying woman with blood on her.
Deborah Love, 72, one of Phillips’ patients, was sitting alone when Vail spotted her. Love had just witnessed the shooting of her husband of 54 years. Police had told her to leave the building as they conducted a search-and-rescue operation.
The Loves were in an exam room when the gunfire started. Deborah’s husband, William, was hit while trying to barricade the door.
“I kept trying to hug her and console her when she was crying. I told her I would stay with her until her family arrived.”
“I kept trying to hug her and console her when she was crying,” Vail said. “I told her I would stay with her until her family arrived.
“Anyway, just bless her heart, I would never want to be in that position,” the church member added. “And then, unfortunately, we learned the next day that he (William Love) didn’t make it, so it’s been hard on all of us.”
Dr. Corbin VanBrunt and Traci Allen, who manages VanBrunt’s dental office, work across the hall from Vail.
Like Vail, they attend The Park church. They were wrapping up their workday Wednesday when they heard sirens.
“People keep asking, ‘Are you OK going to work?’” Allen said after worship Sunday. “I’m fine going to work. I just keep thinking about the people in that office (where the shooting occurred) going back to the office. It has to be horrific.
“And the loss of someone you’ve worked with — I mean, we’ve worked together since 2009,” she said, referring to VanBrunt. “I wouldn’t be able to work if something happened to him. I wouldn’t be able to go back there.”
The tragedy also has caused VanBrunt to reflect.
“I don’t know what this gentleman’s issues were, but we also have patients who are on pain medication, and we have to go back and forth on that,” he said, noting increased regulation of prescription painkillers amid record drug overdoses. “And legally now, there’s only so much we can give anybody.”
When church member Ken Factor first learned of the shooting, his thoughts turned to his many fellow Christians who work at Saint Francis.
Only later did he learn that Dr. Husen — who had treated both his wife, Julie, and him — had died in the attack.
“You almost couldn’t tell that she was a doctor because she was so personable and just joked around,” Factor, 58, said as he recalled Husen fondly. “My wife was on a little scooter for a while because she broke her foot, and we’d joke about her scooter.
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“I had bad knees, and she and my wife would joke about my knees,” the retired City of Tulsa employee added. “It’s funny. I didn’t mind too much. She was an extremely nice lady. And very human. Very funny.”
Asked if he sees any solutions for the string of mass shootings, Factor stressed that he has been a registered Republican for nearly 40 years.
But he said, “I think we need some kind of restrictions on guns. I don’t know that the Second Amendment applies to things like me deciding, ‘I’m going to go get an AR-15 today.’”
The Tulsa gunman bought his AR-style semi-automatic rifle an hour before the shooting, according to police. Oklahoma is a Republican-dominated state that has loosened gun regulations over the last decade.
According to The Associated Press, the recent shootings have exposed divisions on the gun issue in faith communities nationally and raised this question: “Are you pro-life if you are pro-gun?”
In a Thursday night address from the White House — the night after the Oklahoma attack — President Joe Biden touted increased gun restrictions to reduce violence.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican and former longtime member of the University Avenue Church of Christ in Austin, is pushing for bipartisan gun reform legislation. However, Cornyn stresses he’s not interested in “restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment.”
But after listening to Factor, fellow church member Lawson Vaughn offered a different perspective.
Vaughn pointed to data indicating gun ownership in America has remained fairly steady over the past 50 years.
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The share of U.S. households that own guns has hovered between 37 percent and 47 percent since 1972, according to market research firm Statista. In 2021, about 42 percent of households had at least one gun in their possession.
“I think there’s something to be said just for the erosion of the home, the family,” said Vaughn, a 48-year-old attorney and father of three. “I mean, it starts with raising kids to respect others and having families that go to church.
“I don’t want to have so many restrictions that it’s only the bad guys that have the guns.”
“I don’t want to have so many restrictions that it’s only the bad guys that have the guns,” he added.
While the proportion of households with guns has not risen dramatically, the number of AR-style weapons in circulation in the U.S. has surged to 19.8 million since a federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004 — up from around 8.5 million, according to Business Insider.
Factor said he agrees that gun restrictions are not the total answer.
“There’s a lot to it,” he said. “But society doesn’t want to hear things like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to strengthen the home. We’ve got to bring our kids up right.’”
Vail, the church member who comforted the Tulsa victim’s wife, fears mass shootings will keep happening.
“I’m afraid,” Vail said, “that those that are mentally ill and those that are criminal — they will find a way.”
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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