For Matthew

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Sally Crossthwaite.

Content Warning: gun violence, mass shooting

Laurie Works is a homeschool alum, community organizer, and spoken word poet. She is also a mass shooting survivor. In December 2007, two of her sisters, Rachel and Stephanie Works, died during the New Life Church shooting in Colorado Springs. This poem is her reply to the shooter, Matthew Murray, who was also homeschooled. 

Sometimes I feel like we are two sides of the same coin
some people call you the bad penny
just because it landed tails up
they say it’s bad luck.
We could have had the same parents
we were homeschooled, using the same books
from the same publishers
we both learned that evolution was a lie
that the earth was created 6,000 years ago
maybe that’s why we both had such a hard time progressing
100 miles apart, we did the same training
they told us God loved us
I heard voices and gave prophecies
they said you heard voices too
but those voices were the different ones
same coin other side
we both had demons haunting us
mine just were clothed in angel’s skin
at least you knew yours clearly
it took our lives colliding for me to fully see mine.
We collided in one moment
somehow that moment always felt like it would happen
I wonder if you must have felt that too
I wonder if you were pulled by the same invisible thread
the world knows you as the man who murdered my sisters
I know you as someone across the gulf of the same canyon
both of us were just trying to figure out how to get across
you sprayed bullets trying to build a bridge of mettle
and when the bridge wouldn’t hold
you built it instead to the other side.
I have been trying to build a bridge of mettle ever since
trying to finish the job you started without using violence as tool
but it’s hard when I’ve always been shooting myself in the foot
what good is a bridge when you can’t walk across it
what good is a bridge that you constantly tear down.
Your name means gift of God
sometimes I think that’s true while other days I want to run
from the darkness I see behind your imagined eyes
on the day the voices we heard collided
I want you to know I saw them too
the demons you were so acquainted with
i’ve been living with them for almost 8 years now
maybe they don’t erupt the same
I never turned my violence outward
always loaded my gun and turned it on myself
This year, I’m learning
that just because a coin isn’t lucky doesn’t mean it’s a bad penny
that some bridges aren’t built out of mettle
what bridges heaven and earth
is made of our most vital organ
my sister’s hearts that your metal bullets ripped through
is the bridge I now cross over
it’s not so much a bridge but a surrender
to the air between the chasm
If I’m the side of the coin that’s heads up
it’s because you were my heads up
it’s because you showed me
that strength isn’t built from violence
and the ways in which I’ve assaulted myself
Strength is made of heart melting into void
coming out the other side
like a black hole makes new stars
I’m coming out the other side
I’ll take you with me.
Maybe these new voices will sing back
and tell you what you were made of
even pennies were made strong by copper melting in a fire.

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Matthew Murray

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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.


Matthew Murray

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.

On December 9, 2007, 24-year-old Matthew Murray (pictured here with his niece) went on a killing spree in Colorado
On December 9, 2007, 24-year-old Matthew Murray (pictured here with his niece) went on a killing spree in Colorado

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.