A gunman chose the day of "See You at the Pole" to kill four teen-agers and three adults celebrating the international day of prayer at a Texas church.
More than 250 Lawrence teen-agers participated Wednesday before school in annual "See You at the Pole" prayer gatherings outside the junior highs and high schools.
They circled flagpoles to pray for students, teachers and education leaders. Students asked God to quell violence that has struck down their peers across America.
About 12 hours later, Larry Gene Ashbrook walked into the sanctuary of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Tex., and shot 14 people, many of whom took part in similar See You at the Pole events. Four teens and three adults were fatally shot. The gunman killed himself.
Ashbrook reportedly made derogatory comments about Baptists while firing.
"The Columbine incident was definitely a wake-up for kids," Hans Pfadt, youth pastor at Clinton Parkway Assembly of God Church, said Thursday. "But this was more specific than Columbine as far as kids who attend church and call themselves a Christian.
"It causes students to really evaluate where they're at."
Pastor Rod Hinkle of Lawrence Heights Christian Church, which also had youth members at local flagpole sessions, said the day's events illustrated a gap between people who had found comfort in the power of prayer and those who had not.
"In relation to See You at the Pole, this indicates where most of our kids are coming from," he said. "There are a few who have severe problems that we need to meet."
Carolyn Heacock, youth director at Lawrence Free Methodist Church, said the Fort Worth episode added to concern among teen-agers about the slaying of young Americans expressing their faith. At Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., students Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall were killed in April while bearing verbal witness. In 1997, three students in a prayer meeting at a West Paducah, Ky., high school were shot and killed by a classmate.
"It's a little bit stunning to think violence is going into the churches," she said. "On the other hand, if people are targeting believers, that's where a lot of them are."
She said the Fort Worth shooting reinforced the need for people to embrace prayer as teen-agers did at See You at the Pole.
"They see the need to pray for their country and their schools," she said.
Hinkle said more Americans struggling in life were turning to violence for solutions.
"That's unfortunate," the pastor said. "I think the Christian response to something like that is to not reply in kind and go on loving people."
An estimated 3 million youths prayed Wednesday on school campuses in observance of the 10th annual See You at the Pole. The student-initiated and student-led movement began in Texas in 1990 with a single church youth group.
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