By MARLENE BOHR
Editor’s Note: This is the first installation in a two-part series recalling a horrific Sunday in Daingerfield and the aftermath that ultimately left five victims dead 35 years ago this past Monday. The tragic event unfortunately, bears an eerie similarity to the recent shootings inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
What began as a peaceful Sunday morning inside the First Baptist Church in Daingerfield 35 years ago turned into a horrific tragedy; one many still have not forgotten.
Members of the congregation gathered at their place of worship Sunday morning, June 22, 1980. Shortly into the service, five people lost their lives from gunshots and others were wounded before the shooter could be subdued. The church sanctuary at that time was on Webb Street.
The peaceful service ended when a man broke through the doors yelling ‘This is war.’
Gunshots followed when Alvin Lee King III, 45, of Daingerfield, unleashed his fury.
A marker now adorns the yard of the church’s original sanctuary listing the names of those slain that day: Among the dead were Gina Linam, 7; Thelma Richardson, 72; Kenneth Truitt, 49; Gene Gandy, 49; and James “Red” McDaniel, 53.
Records show the day following the shooting, King was to appear for trial under charges of incest. He had requested favorable testimony from some school teachers, but they refused. After 17 months in the Rusk State Hospital, King was returned to Daingerfield to appear for a change of venue hearing. He ultimately hung himself in the Morris County Jail.
Lori Bardwell of Daingerfield has attended First Baptist Church all her life, but was not present at the time of the shooting.
“My mom, Loye Bardwell, had a case coming up on the next Monday of child molestation against King,” she said. “He (King) couldn’t get any character witness for his court proceedings and he thought if he got my mom, who was a Child Protective Services caseworker, that would stop the court hearing. He also was after fellow teachers as they wouldn’t testify for him as character witnesses. I am sure, if not for the case against him, he would not have done it. He was really going down for his actions this time.”
Current Daingerfield Mayor Lou Irvin was present with her children, husband and her mother the day of the shooting.
“On that day, my dad, Bo Irvin, was the mayor and was attending the Methodist Church,” she said. “Gina’s (one of the victims) dad was conducting music at the church and when they came to get him, they told him what happened. My dad immediately came to the Baptist Church. He found they had moved us to an activities building because there was so much carnage in the church and they didn’t want the children to see it. Daddy had a station wagon at the time and he transported patients to the Hospital in the Pines.
“We created security at the church at all the doors at first, but how can you stop this?
The one in South Carolina came in posing as being in a Bible study and was with them an hour. I don’t know the answer. People need to get back to kindness and accepting. We need to treat the ones we know are mentally ill. I hate to say it; I believe in carrying a gun for your protection. I believe there should be mental testing if anyone is suspected to need it. As long as we have people who are mentally ill and psychologically challenged, and they can get a gun, you will not stop this madness. We need to address the hatred and the bullying that goes on in our society. We are weakening ourselves and doing things in our own country that weaken us as a country. To me, we are letting ourselves be open and susceptible as a nation. I pray for this church. It takes a long time to recover. People who were there in Daingerfield and are my age, jump when you hear a noise and this is 35 years later.”
Joe Skipper was the Morris County Sheriff at the time of the shooting.
“We were going to church in Cason at the time and heard about it when we left,” he said. “It was investigated by the Daingerfield Police Department. I was responsible for seeing King was taken for two evaluations and we held him in the county jail.
“I never knew King,” Skipper continued. “I tried to do a background on him and everyone said he was a real good man. But, it is pure evil that King came in hollering ‘war’ and pure evil what happened in South Carolina. It is a very tough situation but I think the people in South Carolina have the right idea in trying to forgive him. Some people even suggested that he accept Jesus as Savior, and he would go to heaven. I don’t expect that to happen; people like King and the shooter in South Carolina are ate up with evil.”
Skipper is very aware of security in churches and now attends First Baptist Church.
“We have always had one deacon assigned to security and two laymen to assist, they even check the parking lot,” he said. “I personally do not feel any hesitancy about attending the church nor am afraid of another gunman.”
Judy Pollan said she was in church that day with her husband and two children, ages 8 and 10.
“We thought it was a skit at first,” she said. “At 11:20 a.m. I heard something that sounded like firecrackers going ‘pop pop pop’ and I looked around to see a man dressed in camouflage clothing. He had a rifle and started shooting to the right side of the church. My daughter and her friend and I were on the left, so I shoved both girls under the pews and then I ducked down. He was still shooting to the right.”
Mrs. Pollan believes that King shot to the right as he was left handed. She said Chris Hall was in the sound room and came up behind King and wrestled with him. According to Pollan, other men, Red McDaniel, Kenneth Truitt, and Jack Dean, got up to help.
“Mr. Dean grabbed the rifle and he nearly had his arm blown off,” she said. “Mr. King also had a pistol and started to shoot at Chris (Hall) who dove into the downstairs stairway to escape, narrowly missing three bullets. If not for the stairs, Chris may not have survived. Red McDaniel got hold of Mr. King in a bear hug and knocked him out the back doors of the church while Mr. King was shooting him the whole time, but Red never let go.
“Red knocked Mr. King down on his back, but Red had died by that time. Ken Truitt came out of the back door and jumped toward Mr. King, but just before he got there, Mr. King pulled the pistol up and fatally shot him.”
With other church members in pursuit, King went around the east side of the church toward the fire station where he shot himself; however, he survived.
“It just scared us to death because we felt like we were safe in the church,” Pollan said.
“Our lives were all changed after that. If you are not safe in church, you are not safe anywhere. At any popping sound now, I still jump.”
Pollan credits many of the men of the church that day for their bravery.
“Chris was a real hero, and if it wouldn’t have been for him, we would have all been killed as Mr. King had that much ammunition,” she said. “The church survived. God blessed us in many ways. I am just so sorry so many wonderful people lost their lives.”
Cheryl Linam Hendricks is the mother of the youngest victim, Gina, who was only 7.
“Even though it has been 35 years, I still can remember everything the day before and the day of the shooting and my memory isn’t that sharp with other things,” she said. “Also, it is something you never get over, and when I heard about that in South Carolina, I cried all day, every time I thought about it. I cried because their lives have been changed forever. I know that my son was 4½ and is 39 now and he still goes through the post-traumatic stress. My daughter was 18 months and is 36 and she is still being treated for it. Back then they didn’t know as much as they do now and it is amazing what all that does. It makes me more sympathetic with our military. Any shootings, my heart goes out to them and I want to go and hug them. They will survive, but that is not going to say it will be an easy road.
“I don’t know how people go through stuff like this that do not know the Lord, because that is the only way that I survived that day and the days after. I know I’m going to see Gina again because she is in heaven and a lot of parents don’t know that about their children. I know where Gina is and I know I am going to see her again some day. I have heard this question, ‘why would God allow this to happen’.? God didn’t do this, God is not the one who did this. This should open our eyes as to how real Satan is. Satan said he has come to kill and destroy and he means it; we don’t need to take Satan lightly. God sees further down the road than what we can see, and we need to trust him every day and sometimes it is every hour.”
Remembering that day as if it was yesterday, Hendricks continued.
“That morning our Sunday School lesson was about losing a loved one,” she said. “It was like God was trying to prepare me and sure enough, it wasn’t 30 minutes later until she laid on the floor with a bullet wound on her head. She had just turned around and smiled and winked at me as if to say ‘I love you mom.’ I winked at her and she turned back around and it wasn’t two seconds, the doors flew open. My son and I were in the pew behind Gina.
“Thinking about South Carolina, my advice is take it one day at a time and most definitely don’t let anyone tell you because you’re a church or you are a Christian that you shouldn’t go through the mourning process because you should. It will come out one way or the other.”