Baptist injured in theater shooting chooses forgiveness

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AURORA, Colo.—From his hospital bed, one of the 58 people injured in a July 20 shooting rampage in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that claimed 12 lives has become a spokesman for Christian forgiveness.

Ryan Heller (right), pastor of The Edge Church in Aurora, Colo., offers comfort and support to church member Pierce O’Farrill, who received multiple injuries in the July 20 shooting rampage in a movie theater.

Pierce O’Farrill, a member of the The Edge Church, a Baptist congregation in Aurora started by a core group from Dallas, suffered bullet wounds to his right humerus and left foot. Shrapnel remains lodged in his chest.

His experience brought the tragedy home to his church, and it also gave O’Farrill, the Denver Rescue Mission’s vehicle distribution coordinator, a platform to share his faith.

As the world watched the continuous television coverage searching seeking some reason in the midst of confusing calamity, O’Farrill recounted his horrific experience with prominent media outlets including CBS, ABC and CNN, emphasizing Christ’s power over darkness.

“There is evil in this world, and there is a darkness,” O’Farrill responded to CBS reporter Erin Moriarty’s question about the shooter’s motivation. “There is an enemy, but the wonderful news is there is a Light, and there is a Light that shines brighter than the darkness ever imaginable.”

O’Farrill surprised some reporters and viewers because he did not speak of resentment toward the gunman.

“This is going to be hard for people to understand, but I feel sorry for him,” he said. “When I think what that soul must be like to have that much hatred and that much anger in his heart—what every day must be like. I can’t imagine getting out of bed every morning and having that much anger and hatred for people that he undoubtedly has. I’m not angry at him. I’ll pray for him.”

His pastor believes O’Farrill has prompted a national debate on forgiveness.

“Some of the other survivors have said that they can’t or won’t forgive [the shooter]. Reporters are contrasting him against other survivors, so it is important to understand what Jesus says about forgiving,” said Ryan Heller, pastor of The Edge Church.

The Sunday following the shooting, Heller spoke words of encouragement to his congregation that deeply loves O’Farrill and is hurting for their city.

“Pierce has already forgiven him. I think that is exactly what we need to talk about this morning is forgiveness,” he said, preaching from Matthew 18:21-22. “God wants us to live lives of continual forgiveness. Forgiving brings strength and vitality. The reason that Pierce is able to forgive is because Jesus is in him.”

Heller described O’Farrill as “Mr. Friendly” and the most consistent “bringer” of non-Christian friends to The Edge Church. Perhaps one reason O’Farrill invites many friends to church is that he first attended as a result of invitation from his former co-worker and close friend John Fruend.

“Pierce and I first met working at a car dealership three or four years ago. We immediately hit if off as friends. He is a big sports fan, and so am I,” Fruend explained.  

Shortly after they formed a friendship, O’Farrill moved to Florida to be with his then-girlfriend. One day, Fruend received a call from a distressed O’Farrill. His dating relationship was not going well. In addition, O’Farrill had recently lost his mother to cancer and was struggling to cope.

Fruend promised O’Farrill he would help him find a job if he needed to return to Colorado.

O’Farrill was getting back on his feet at the car dealership, he went to Fruend to say that he felt a call from God and wanted to do something with his life. Fruend asked if he had found a church home. O’Farrill had not.

“I encouraged him to come to The Edge. I told him we were a small church that met in a middle school, and that it was the kind of relaxed, informal environment that might be for him,” said Fruend.

After O’Farrill came to The Edge Church the first time, Fruend said, “He was all in. I think he instantly connected with Ryan’s word.”

O’Farrill began attending The Edge Church every week. Before long, he made a profession of faith n Christ, and Heller baptized him.

“Pierce is a beacon of Christianity and what it is supposed to be about—forgiveness and making the most of every day,” Fruend said. “Pierce believes God had him in the theater for a reason— to tell God’s message and use this as a forum. For him to say that (he forgives the shooter) with all his wounds and pain is amazing. It moves me every time I think about it.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper quoted O’Farrill in the prayer vigil held in Aurora on the Sunday evening following the shooting saying, “The outpouring of light and love is so much more powerful than any darkness.”

The Edge Church has focused on ministering to O’Farrill. In early morning hours after the shooting, O’Farrill called Heller to talk. The church continues to support his recovery.

“Our whole staff has been really involved in encouraging him,” said Heller. “Lots of our people are visiting and loving on him. Kids from our children’s ministry made him get well cards. We visited him in the hospital and joined hands in prayer over him and his family.”

Heller noted the church’s heart for others affected in Aurora. “In times of tragedy, we have a great chance to minister when we otherwise may not have had an opportunity. We are committed to sharing the light and evangelizing in our city,” he said.

A group of church members participated in the prayer vigil held in Aurora on July 22. Heller noted O’Farrill reflects this outward focus. O’Farrill sees encouraging and sharing truth with other victims and their families as significant aspects of his mission, and he hopes to be able to minister to those families in the near future.

 “Pierce is a total inspiration to our church and to the community,” Heller said. “While so many people are questioning God in this time, Pierce is a light in the darkness. His faith is increasing, growing and maturing while many are in doubt. Pierce is like a rock.”

Amber Cassady is the missional correspondent for Colorado Baptists and is a senior communication and journalism student at Texas A&M University. Claudean Boatman also contributed to this report.

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