Church leader says killing spree was `satanic' act




Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

(KRT) - A Living Church of God leader said in Milwaukee Thursday that Terry Ratzmann's killing spree was a satanic act performed by a normally friendly man.

John Ogwyn, a minister and spokesman for the 7,000-member church, said he didn't know what prompted Ratzmann to fire into his congregation during a Saturday service held at the Brookfield Sheraton hotel. Ratzmann killed seven and wounded four church members before killing himself.

"Walking in and blindly shooting people - is that satanic? Is that evil? Of course it is," Ogwyn said during a press conference. "Something tragically wrong happened in his life."

He said the small church believes in the existence of God, angels, Satan and demons.

Ogwyn used Thursday's appearance to counter comments from some local members of the church, saying it did not discourage members from seeking secular treatment for emotional problems. Psychiatric counseling "certainly has its place," Ogwyn said, and is not banned by the church. The church also has no ban on medication, he said.

Local members have said those with emotional problems are told to consult first with the local pastor, and some have said seeking outside professional help is actively discouraged. Ratzmann had a long history of depression and once acknowledged suicidal feelings, according to church members.

Ogwyn also said the church does not restrict members to dating and marrying within the church. He said, however, that choosing a mate who practices the same religion would likely lead to a more harmonious marriage. Some local members have said outside dating was strongly discouraged and that Ratzmann had been frustrated by his inability to find a wife within the church.

Ogwyn described the Living Church of God as "an exact continuation" of the former Worldwide Church of God and the teachings of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, who died in 1986. Armstrong gained fame for his "The World Tomorrow" radio and television programs and "The Plain Truth" magazine.

Armstrong's version of Christianity emphasized a coming apocalypse marked by disasters and a world war and belief that Christ would return to Earth and establish a 1,000-year rein. Armstrong rejected more mainstream Christianity as "Roman paganism."

Ogwyn said he and other church leaders, including its current top leader, Roderick Meredith, were in Milwaukee for some of the Ratzmann shooting victims' funerals.

Ratzmann will also have a church funeral officiated by some Living Church of God pastors, although at the request of his family it will be private, Ogwyn said. Ratzmann's family members did not belong to his church.

Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher said Thursday that he made a formal recommendation to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to deny the family's request that Ratzmann be buried at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove. Ratzmann had served in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Bucher said he told the department the request should be denied because Ratzmann was unavailable for prosecution for a series of crimes.

Meanwhile, a California-based workplace violence expert said Thursday that Ratzmann likely lashed out against local church leaders because he viewed them as responsible for his woes.

Larry J. Chavez, a former hostage negotiator for the Sacramento Police Department, said in an interview that Ratzmann's rage likely was triggered by a Feb. 26 pre-recorded sermon the local congregation watched on television. Ratzmann stormed out of that service before it was over, despite the fact he was scheduled to give the final prayer that day.

"It was probably at this point that Ratzmann's depression transitioned into anger and animosity toward church officials," Chavez said in a paper published on his Web site.

That sermon remains subject of some debate. Ogwyn and other church leaders have said the Feb. 26 sermon was a non-controversial one given by Charles Bryce, the church's director of administration. Chandra Frazier, a local church member, said Thursday that she was "75 percent certain" the sermon that day was a different one by Meredith, presiding evangelist of the Charlotte, N.C.-based church.

Brookfield Police Lt. Mark Millard said that investigators were still trying to clear up that point.

Ogwyn also announced a fund was being established to help shooting victims and their families, with details on the church's Web site, lcg.org.

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2005, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.