Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.
Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.
On December 9, 2007, 24-year-old Matthew Murray went on a killing spree in Colorado, opening fire in the early morning at a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) training center in Arvada and then later in the afternoon at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. His spree left 4 people dead and 5 wounded, following which he committed suicide.
Matthew was 1 of 2 sons born to Colorado neurologist Ronald Murray and his wife Loretta Murray. Matthew’s family was a deeply religious Christian household and he and his younger brother Christopher were homeschoooled since 1990 through high school graduation using Bill Gothard’s “Wisdom Booklets.” His family attended Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, a church noted for its Christian Zionism beliefs. The Murray family were members of Kevin Swanson’s Christian Home Educators of Colorado, and Christopher was part of a homeschool graduation ceremony held by CHEC in 2005.
After being homeschooled all the way through high school, Matthew attended Arapahoe Community College and Colorado Christian University for brief periods. In 2002, he attended a YWAM missionary training program held at the same Arvada facility he attacked. He did not complete the training, however, due to several reasons: one being health problems that prevented him from doing the requisite field work; others being “strange behavior” such as talking about “hearing voices” and performing “dark rock songs” from Linkin Park that made co-workers feel “pretty scared.” (Court records indicate that the Arvada attack was at least partly inspired by his anger about being expelled.)
Matthew was alleged to be either gay or bisexual and experienced guilt over his orientation. He felt he had to justify it through pointing to the hypocrisy of evangelical leaders like Ted Haggard. He struggled with depression, took Prozac, and was seeing a therapist. He believed his parents were simply using him as a religious weapon or tool, saying that “The only reason [my mom] had me was because she wanted a body/soul she could train into being the next Billy Graham.” He claimed to suffer psychological and other forms of abuse at the hands of his parents growing up, taking particular aim at how Gothard’s teachings influenced his family, at one point writing the following online:
“Me, I remember the beatings and the fighting and yelling and insane rules and all the Bill Gothard (expletive) and then trancing out . (expletive) . I’m still tranced out.”
Gothard himself commented on the murders after the fact, saying that Matthew and his family only used his homeschooling curriculum for “several years” and that his curriculum is “all built around the Sermon on the Mount.” Gothard added that Matthew’s problem was that “he rejected the curriculum,” pointing to Matthew’s love of rock music. “The music we listen to is a powerful force,” Gothard suggested.
While Matthew’s family did not regularly attend New Life Church, his mother Loretta considered Ted Haggard — the disgraced evangelical celebrity who founded and pastored New Life — to be her “favorite pastor.” The Murray family gave money to New Life and Matthew and his mother went to a conference at the church 4 years prior to the attack.
On the day of the attacks, Matthew drove to the YWAM facility in Arvada in the middle of the night. After asking if he could stay the night at the facility (and being denied), Matthew pulled out his guns and opened fire. He killed 24-year-old Tiffany Johnson and 26-year-old Philip Crouse, as well as wounded 24-year-old Dan Griebenow and 22-year-old Charlie Blanch. Matthew then drove to New Life Church. Around 1 pm, Matthew began his second attack, spraying bullets at church members leaving after church service. He struck and killed two sisters, 18-year-old Stephanie Works and 16-year-old Rachel Works — who happened to be homeschooled themselves. He also wounded the sisters’ father, 51-year-old David Works, as well as 40-year-old Judy Purcell and 59-year-old Larry Bourbannais.
Matthew’s shooting rampage finally came to a halt when Jeanne Assam, a volunteer security guard at the church, managed to shoot and wound Matthew. Matthew then shot and killed himself.
In May 2008, Matthew’s parents appeared on James Dobson’s radio show. His father Ronald said they had “no idea he had ownership of weapons or any plan,” blaming the shootings on his son’s “depth of bitterness” about his Christian upbringing. That “bitterness” was expressed by Matthew himself in his handwritten “Letter to God” found in his car after the attacks. In the letter, Matthew wrote,
“The more I read your stupid book, the more I pray, the more I reach out to Christians for help, the more hurt and abused I get.”
Following Matthew’s rampage and suicide, Kevin Swanson (Director of CHEC, which the Murray family were members of) did a radio broadcast on the situation entitled, “Should Pastors Pack?”
View the case index here.