The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Lessons from Moses Lake

In 1996, Immanuel Lutheran Church faced two incidents involving teens, guns and death

"Desert Oasis, " reads the sign as you enter Moses Lake from the high, dry plains of central Washington. The well-kept parks and homes hugging the fingers of the fresh, blue lake signal the kind of place where people move to escape urban living.

But this tranquil face hides a town that was stripped of its illusions of safety. In separate incidents in 1996, two teenage boys picked up guns and acted out their inner turmoil, taking the lives of six people.

The pain of these tragedies reached critical mass at Immanuel Lutheran Church because Arnie Fritz, 14, a parishioner, was one of three killed on Feb. 2. Barry Loukaitas, 14, entered a ninth-grade math class and began shooting, killing two classmates, a beloved teacher and permanently injuring another student. Arnie was a quiet, playful, cerebral boy with a tender heart and a wry sense of humor.

Were losing him not enough, a depressed and lonely Aaron Moore, 13, another parishioner and Arnie's cousin, took a gun Dec. 6 and shot his younger sister, Mallory, and mother, Linda, before killing himself. Ron, his stepfather, was the only family member not at home. Aaron was a frequent acolyte and helper at church, who prayed thoughtful prayers at confirmation class. Arnie may have been Aaron's best friend.

Kevan Smith, Immanuel's pastor, was besieged when the press descended upon Moses Lake after the first shooting. The church, located across the street from where it had occurred, opened its doors for people to drop by and talk. Youth minister Bob Garrett stayed all night to be with grieving and confused youth.

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