In the midst of unimaginable tragedy, Les Ferguson Jr.’s faith survives.
“God didn’t do this,” said Ferguson, preaching minister for the Orange Grove Church of Christ in Gulfport, Miss. “This was just evil.”
Even as he clings to God, Ferguson can’t help but weep as he mourns his wife, Karen, and son Cole, 21, who were shot to death in the family’s home Oct. 10.
“They were just beautiful people,” Ferguson said. “My son struggled his whole life with disabilities. He was frustrated and hurt a lot, but he was a good boy. He wanted to do right, and he loved God. He loved to sing, even if nobody else understood what he was saying.”
Karen Brown Ferguson, 44, was “just the best mama and wife you could ever want,” the minister added. “She sacrificed her whole life for everybody around her. She did it again. I really believe she could have saved herself.”
The suspect in the double-homicide — Paul Ellis Buckman — died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his apartment about two miles away, Gulfport police Capt. Craig Petersen said.
Buckman, 70, had attended the Orange Grove church until he was charged in July with sexually assaulting Cole Ferguson, who had cerebral palsy, friends and authorities said.
The youngest of the Fergusons’ four sons — 5-year-old Casey — ran to a neighbor’s house and survived the attack, witnesses said.
Ferguson was attending a preachers’ meeting at the Rodenburg Avenue Church of Christ in nearby Biloxi that afternoon. The minister said his wife fought the killer.
“She fought him so hard, you just wouldn’t believe,” Ferguson said. “She saved one. She got Casey out of the house. She fought hard for Cole.”
Son Conner, 14, had spent the night with friends from church. Not long before the shootings, Conner stopped by the house and got money from his mother to play miniature golf, Ferguson said. Oldest son Kyle serves as campus minister for the University Church of Christ in Murray, Ky.
From near and far, the tragedy drew an outpouring of sympathy and prayers from members of Churches of Christ.
“Huge numbers of people have been touched,” said Milton Sewell, chancellor of Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., and a next-door neighbor of Bob and Joan Brown, Karen Ferguson’s parents.
Many in Churches of Christ know Les Ferguson Jr. through his work
with church volunteers from across the nation after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
His father, Les Ferguson Sr., is a former president of the now-defunct Magnolia Bible College in Kosciusko, Miss.
Les Jr.’s brother, Billy Ferguson, minister for the Seventh Street Church of Christ in Columbus, Miss., delivered the eulogy at Karen and Cole’s funeral Oct. 14. An estimated 700 mourners packed the Orange Grove church building.
Close family friend John Dobbs praised the “outstanding response to this horrific tragedy” by the Orange Grove church.
“The family was never alone, never had a need, never was without someone ready to do whatever could be done,” said Dobbs, minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ in Monroe, La., and a former minister for the Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, Miss., not far from Gulfport. “And yet they did not smother the family — they were simply available.”
Dobbs suffered a tragedy
of his own in 2008 when his 18-year-old son, John Robert Dobbs, was struck and killed on an interstate. Les Ferguson Jr. was one of the first people to reach out to Dobbs and spoke at John Robert’s funeral.
“I don’t know of any preacher who works as hard as Les, who is as relentlessly consumed with reaching out to the lost, who teaches and baptizes more people,” Dobbs said of his friend. “Even though Cole was afflicted, and they joyfully met every challenge with love and compassion, they still had enough compassion to rescue and adopt Casey. This family is a testimony of love, and everyone who knows them is simply crushed.”
In Tennessee, countless people from the Browns’ congregation, the Henderson Church of Christ, comforted the Browns at their home, sent cards, called and otherwise tried to ease their suffering, Sewell said. Bob Brown is a retired Freed-Hardeman physical science professor.
Dan Winkler, minister for the Huntingdon Church of Christ in Tennessee, whose son, Matthew, was shot
to death in 2006, was among those who visited and encouraged the Browns.
However, Sewell said, “You can’t be around them very long before they’re encouraging you. They’re just that strong in their faith.”
The day of the slayings marked Les and Karen Ferguson’s 24th wedding anniversary.
That morning, Karen Ferguson posted a Facebook message wishing her husband — “the love of my life” — a happy anniversary.
“You are a great husband and a great father to our four boys! I love you ALWAYS!!!!” she wrote.
Before his world turned upside down, Ferguson posted a message of his own: “Happy 24th Anniversary to my beautiful wife Karen Brown Ferguson! Heaven couldn’t be any sweeter! I love you!”
Now, heaven can’t come soon enough.
“I’m ready to get home,” Ferguson said. “It’s still a nightmare. I’m still trying to wake up.”
AN ACCOUNT TO BENEFIT the Ferguson family has been set up at Hancock Bank branches. For more information, see www.ogcofc.org.