Church Shooting -- Emporia, KS – 1988
By: Carl Chinn
A few days ago I answered the phone in my office. When the voice on the line said, “Mr. Chinn, my name is Jerry Waddell” -- I stood up. I had heard of Jerry (though I hadn’t learned his name until recently) throughout my years of research on deadly force incidents at faith-based organizations. To be speaking with him was an honor worthy of my full attention.
I have met some of the folks who were involved with this particular incident. This is a small portion of their story from Sunday morning, March 6th, 1988.
18-year-old Beverly DeWeese was sitting towards the back of the Calvary Baptist Church in Emporia, KS. They were all singing when she heard someone come in through the side exterior door behind her. Looking around, she saw a young man standing behind her wearing red ear muffs. It struck her as a bit odd but recognizing his foreign descent, reasoned it must be some Asian culture inconsistent with the mild Spring-like day. Not wanting to stare, she turned back around.
The young man standing there was 29-year-old Cheun-Phon Ji (aka Paul Ji). Ji had convinced himself that a particular girl (G. M.) would have had him as her boyfriend if the church hadn’t come between them in 1984. In truth, the girl wasn’t interested in him and the church had nothing to do with that. But in Ji’s mind, her rejection of him was caused by the church.
The 3 + years he had been gone from the college town (living in California, New York, then back in California) were years in which his anger festered. In 1988 he headed his car back to Kansas with vengeance in mind. It wasn’t ear muffs he was wearing -- it was ear protection for shooting.
Armed with a SIG 9mm, multiple clips in his waste-band, and plenty more rounds in his duffle bag, he entered the back door (being familiar with the church layout and operations). As he began shooting randomly, some thought it was a prank. The sight of splinters shooting like missiles from the pews, the smell of gunpowder, and the sound of screams quickly revealed this was no prank.
Beverly felt a bullet rip through her shoulder, then she and others hit the floor and began scrambling away under the pews as the shooting continued above them.
Further towards the front, and on the other side of the church, Jerry Waddell pushed his wife to the floor, and got down with her. He heard the shooting pause then recognized the sounds of fumbling with the gun. Looking up over the back of the pew, he could see the gunman struggling, trying to replace the spent 15-round clip.
Simply being angry at the rude disruption of their service, Waddell jumped up and began running towards the shooter. Still unable to work the clips, Ji dashed away from Waddell and back out the door. As they ran across the parking lot, Jerry realized he had his hard-cover hymnal in his hand with his finger still held in the page of the song they had been singing (“Peace Like a River” as Jerry recalls -- admitting his memory could be wrong). As they were both running, he launched the hymnal at the escaping gunman striking him in the back of the head.
Probably thinking his pursuer had struck him with a fist, Ji stopped and whirled to face the defender. The distance between them at that moment, combined with the freight train momentum Waddell had worked up resulted in a body slam that sent both men scraping down the driveway and 15 feet out into the street. Rick Grossenbacher and Richard Goza had also sprung to action and were right behind Jerry. The gang of defenders piled on and held the attacker down.
Police officer Mark Senn was just a few blocks away from the church when he got the call. When he came upon the scene, he could see the commotion outside and quickly determined the shooter was at the bottom of the anger pile. The men began to learn that their friend Thomas DeWeese (who had been sitting on the same pew with his daughter Beverly) had been struck through his chest by one of the bullets, and was dying. At this point Senn’s biggest challenge was to keep the defenders from killing the gunman.
When it was over, the 15-rounds fired resulted in the death of Thomas DeWeese. His daughter Beverly and three others were wounded. The gunman was taken away for life in prison. In his duffle bag they discovered a meat cleaver, several short pieces of rope, 2 loaded .44 Magnum revolvers, and boxes of .44 Mag. and 9mm ammunition -- clear intentions of mass carnage. An attack cut short by Divine intervention and the actions of a few good men.
Think About it:
- The church had no idea the man had any anger at them – a few barely knew him. Yet in his mind he was obsessed with their mistreatment of him. That anger had brewed for years. He had signs in his Apartment in California made of Chinese symbols representing, "Love", "Hate", "Patience", "Anger" (the Chinese “Anger” symbol was interpreted by some in his trial to mean, “revenge”).
- In a later appeal (May 22nd, 1992 – KS Supreme Court documents), the courts recorded that;
“…Even after he left Emporia in 1984 he believed that the people in Emporia were spying on him. Ji finally decided to travel back to Emporia to punish the members of the Calvary Baptist Church. He also believed if there were truly a Christian God that the bullets would be deflected and nothing would happen to the members of the church. If there were no Christian God, as he believed, the members of the church would be hurt. He believed that the members of the Calvary Baptist Church were criminals and he was morally justified in delivering their punishment. Ji admitted he was well aware of his actions and he realized what the consequences could entail but believed what he was doing was right.”
- In Ji’s head, the church (and the town itself) was full of "lying white supremacists." In an interview with a local paper in 1990, Ji justified his actions as a “the result of hatred caused by his years of victimization in an oppressive American society.”
- Threats can come as a surprise from many sources, to any size of a church. Something as innocent as a girl bringing a boy to a few bible studies can be the root of tragedy. Nobody gave it a 2nd thought when G.M would tell folks it didn’t work out and they’d moved on. That scenario happens many times in the lives of our youth. As we know from other studies, an abuser rarely “moves on”. Ji moved away, but he didn’t move on. G.M. wasn’t even at the church when the attacker returned.
- Ji was an officer in the Taiwanese Army before coming to America in 1983, yet he couldn’t eject and reload a SIG clip under stress. Defenders must operate well under stress, and hope that stress may cause a critical lack of mobility on the part of the attacker (we have seen this repeated many times over). Jerry Waddell took advantage of that stress, setting a model for others to follow. While there is nothing as valuable as a firearm to stop a deadly force attack, there are other things that a true warrior will use as weapons. Waddell showed us that (in the hands of a defender) a Hymnal can be a weapon.
- In my visit with Jerry he acknowledged the value of the hymnal tactic. He told me however, he would much rather have a gun were he ever in the same scenario again. I love pure simple Kansas logic – makes me proud to be a native Kansan.
- Jerry Waddell became the first civilian to receive the Gold Award for Valor from the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, (the result of nominations by former Emporia Police Chief Larry Blomenkamp and former Lyon County Sheriff Cliff Hacker).