CO Christians Forgive Killer, Find Healing

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DENVER - Just more than a year ago, shootings rocked two Colorado Christian communities killing four and injuring several more.

Youth With A Mission Christmas Banquet - December 9, 2007

A night of celebration for students at Denver's Youth With A Mission instead turned deadly. As their annual Christmas banquet came to a close, the unthinkable happened. A lone gunman shot four workers.

Charles Blanch and Daniel Griebenow sustained gunshot wounds, but survived. However, Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24, did not. As the one-year anniversary draws near, the painful loss feels as sharp today as did that night.

Recently, CBN News went to the Eagle Rock Ranch, the site where the students immediately evacuated after the ordeal. Laughter and singing now replace the tears and mourning.

There's also a bitter-sweet joy that can be seen when the students who survived the shooting talk about their friends who dedicated their lives to missions.

John Murphy, a staff worker with Youth With A Mission said Tiffany impacted people's lives wherever she went.

"Tiff and Phil were Jesus in the flesh," said Samanth Rostovich, a friend and co-worker to the two slain victims.

Peter Warren, who directs the training center for missionaries in suburban Denver, says hundreds, if not thousands of lives have been touched by Tiffany's and Philips's example of loving and serving those who least expect it. He says they were completely sold out in their service to Christ./span>

"The day before took place, in worship we had a time of people recommitting their lives to Christ," Warren said. "And we invited people to come forward. But the invitation was if you want to say to God, 'God, I will do whatever it takes to bring revival to this generation. Use my life no matter what it takes.' Tiffany and Phil both went forward and i believe they really meant it," Warren recalled.

Forgiveness for a Killer

Today, people hearing the YWAM members' story have been amazed by the group's show of forgiveness toward the killer, 24-year-old Matthew Murray, who five years before his assault went through the YWAM training program.

Murray was raised in a Christian home. However, he struggled with mental disorders and became angry at Christians and Youth With A Mission after being denied a chance to go on a missions trip.

"His bitterness drove him to a place where he brought guns and ammunition and committed these murders," Warren said.

But bitterness did not take root at the YWAM base The very first thing students and staff did once they were allowed back on their property defies natural thinking. They forgave their attacker.

"We all gathered in the hallway and we just said at one time, 'I forgive you Matthew," Samantha Rostovich told CBN News.

Hours Later, Tragedy Strikes Again

However, the tragic events of that cold December night do not end with the students at YWAM. Their horrifying ordeal is only half of the story. About 13 hours later, tragedy struck again. This time at a church in Colorado Springs.

David Works remembers hearing a loud bang as he and his family piled into their van after church.

"A bullet came through the window right above me, and I lost it and just screamed out and cried out, 'O God save us.', Works said. "We were in a shooting gallery."

After Murray opened fire on the Works' van, he proceeded into the church where a church security guard shot and wounded him. Murray then took his own life, but only after injuring several others, including Works. His two daughters Stephanie,18, and Rachel,16, both died in the attack.

While their deaths took a heavy toll, it was the girls' lives that helped their parents and their church family deal with the loss. Their lives were dedicated to helping others and Christian missions.

"We've pulled together and found God," Works explained. "We've been humbled, but God is with the humble. He's with the brokenhearted."

The Works family also has found healing through support from their church, through writing a book about their experiences, and in forgiving Murray for taking two of his precious children.

"It's kind of difficult dealing with that because this young Matthew, that day, was really hunting Christians," Works told CBN News. "And my girls were martyrs, and that's really an honor in heaven. That's helping me deal with some positives there, because their lives have touched so many people."

Lives Now Intertwined

The lives of the victims and survivors are now intertwined.

The Works family and Matthew Murray's parents have met with Warren's staff at YWAM. Their hope was to show the power of forgiveness and Christian love. The result continues to inspire those who know the story and those who are hearing it for the first time.

"Being surrounded by people who were touched by this shooting has helped me so much to get through and know that life goes on," said Stephanie Hollman, YWAM's hospitality coordinator.

Rostovich says she's impacted to emulate the qualities of her slain friends.

"Every day I'm choosing to live not only like Christ, but to live the example I've seen here on Earth with my own eyes, like Tiff and Phil," she said.

Their story and legacy has also fired up the missionaries in training to boldly answer the call they feel guides their lives.

"Through this whole shooting, through this tragedy, through losing our friends, our co-workers - part of our family we're not backing down," Murphy explained.

"We're not shrinking back from what God has called us to do as a ministry," he said. "But we're going to make sure that we take time to be healed, because we want to be able to bring that healing to others."

 The following months could have resulted in hopeless despair, but the survivors' journey through pain led them to healing and forgiveness.

*Original broadcast September 29, 2008.

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CBN News
John Jessup

John Jessup

CBN News Washington Correspondent

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