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Helping GA residents make sense of shootings

BY PJ HELLER | ATLANTA, Ga. | August 3, 1999

ATLANTA, Ga. (Aug. 3, 1999) -- From the smallest to the largest

congregations, churches in Atlanta -- and elsewhere throughout the nation --

labored over the weekend to make sense of the most recent wave of violence

here, which left 13 people dead and 13 others injured.

The city, meantime, scheduled a memorial interfaith service for noon

Wednesday at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. And a community

prayer service for Stockbridge, where three people died, was scheduled for

Tuesday night, organized by the tiny Knights Monumental AME Church in that

Atlanta suburb.

The citywide service came at the request of Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell,

who said he hoped the city could "start the healing process" from last

week's shootings.

"It's an opportunity for us to bring closure to this terrible tragedy that

happened and for the healing process to begin in our city," he said through

a spokesman.

"We aren't feeling very good about ourselves in Atlanta right now," noted

the Rev. Don Harp, pastor of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, which

is located less than two blocks from where the shootings occurred.

"Hopefully, we can use this service to confirm our grief and to offer

worlds of hope to the victims' families and for our entire city."

Jamelle Jacobs, senior pastor at Knights Monumental AME Church, said the

prayer service she organized for Stockbridge was designed to bring the

community together. Community members, religious leaders and elected

Atlanta officials were invited to attend.

"We've got to do something as a religious community," she said. "Even the

religious community is so separated. We are divided denominationally. We

are divided ethnically, even socio-economically. But this issue is not a

black or white issue. It's not an economic issue. This is a problem we're

seeing in our society."

"It is time for our churches in the community to come together and pray for

peace and to unite and to figure out what is causing this (violence) to

happen," added Anthony Thomson, an associate pastor at Knights Monumental.

"We can pray together. And hopefully this will unite us to work together to

figure out how can we communicate, how can we prevent this from happening

again."

That will also be the topic of a town meeting slated for late August

sponsored by the Greater Presbytery of Atlanta. The "Schools, Violence,

Guns: What In Heavens Name Can We Do About It" is scheduled Aug. 22 at the

Druids Hills Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.

The program was organized prior to the latest shootings in Atlanta. It came

in the wake of a shooting May 20 at Heritage High School in Conyers, just

east of Atlanta, in which a 15-year-old sophomore opened fire on

classmates, injuring six.

"We are wrestling with evil in our culture," said Pastor Joe Clifford of

the Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. "I don't want to sound too

fundamentalist, but I believe there is a force of evil in our world.

"We're also wrestling with ourselves, with a culture that seems to

manufacture violence and anger," he said. "I think there are lots of

reasons for that. Part of it is that in a capitalistic system, competition

creates anger. I think it has come home to roost in the financial center in

Atlanta."

Mark O. Barton, described as a disgruntled stock trader, opened fire

Thursday at two separate Buckhead day-trading companies. Five people were

killed at Momentum Securities; four others were slain at across the street

at All-Tech Investment Group. Barton later shot and killed himself when

confronted by police.

Published reports said Barton, 44, had recently lost more than $100,000 in

stock trading.

Police later discovered the bodies of Barton's wife, Leigh Anne, 27, and

his two children, Matthew, 12, and Michelle, 7, in their apartment in

Stockbridge, a suburb southeast of Atlanta. They had been bludgeoned to

death in the days before the shooting rampage in Atlanta's upscale Buckhead

financial district.

Little more than two weeks earlier, on July 12, another Atlanta man shot

and killed six members of an Atlanta family, including four children. The

gunman then killed himself.

Eleven days later, two Cobb County SWAT team members were shot and killed

when they responded to a call at a suburban Austell home where another

police officer had been wounded. The gunman was shot.

The most recent shootings sparked renewed debate over gun control. Among

those calling for more stringent gun control measures was Bishop G. Lindsey

Davis, leader of the more than 300,000 United Methodists in north Georgia,

and Harp of the Peachtree Road church.

"I am not trying to repeal the (constitutional) right to bear arms, but

something has to be done about guns, such as background checks and safety

locks, particularly on hand guns," Harp said. "Every two days, 20 children

are killed in gun-related incidents. That's a classroom of kids every 48

hours."

Atlanta was among several cities that sued gun manufacturers seeking to

recoup the costs of gun-related violence. The state legislature and the

governor, however, passed a law prohibiting such suits after being lobbied

heavily by the National Rifle Association.

U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia is also pushing legislation in Congress to

prevent cities and states from suing the gun industry.

Jacobs said she, like other religious leaders, was trying to find ways to

explain the recent violent events to her congregation.

"There are some negative things out there in the world, whether we like it

or not," she said. "We have the power to bring change into the world, but

we just don't concern ourselves with the world. We just concern ourselves

with ourselves.

"If the world's going to change . . . if anything good is supposed to

come . . . we are the agents to bring that about," she said.

Posted August 3, 1999


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