Matthew Murray’s world was haunted by demons.
Somehow, a child of a prominent doctor, someone who was homeschooled in a comfortable Denver suburb, evolved from would-be Christian missionary to a killer trying to rain Columbine down on the Christian world.
A family spokesman said Murray grew up in a loving home. But other interviews and what appear to be Murray’s own online ramblings portray a disturbed individual who resented his sheltered upbringing, had problems with his mother, heard voices in his head, felt rejected and abused — and yet appeared to be searching for a place to belong.
He sought refuge in everything from an online forum for recovering Pentecostals to an occult group.
Those volatile ingredients combined Sunday morning when the 24-year-old Murray killed four people and injured several others in a rampage that spanned 70 miles, from a missionary training center that expelled Murray to Colorado Springs’ New Life Church, a symbol of the Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity he so despised.
Murray, as promised on the Web, came “armed to the teeth” with an assault rifle, handguns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition. An armed church security guard, a new Christian believer, cut him down in a spray of bullets before he could carry out even more violence. An autopsy showed Murray delivered the final, fatal shot to himself.
A family heartbroken
By all accounts, Matthew Murray grew up in a deeply Christian home. His father, Ronald, is a well-known neurologist who helped develop a tissue bank used by researchers fighting multiple sclerosis. His mother, Loretta, worked as a physical therapist before devoting herself to raising and home-schooling her two boys, Matthew and his brother, Chris.
”Matthew Murray was surrounded by love and support,” Casey Nikoloric, a family friend and patient of Ronald Murray’s, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “His family is heartbroken, devastated and simply lost in grief.”
Most information about Murray has become known in recent days through ranting Internet posts that appear to be the shooter’s words. On one, a poster called “Chrstnghtmr” complained of not being able to “socialize normally” after being homeschooled and described being an outcast who was always left out of everything.
One posting was to a site called Independent Spirits, a gathering place for those affected by a strict Christian homeschooling curriculum.
The author describes going with his mother to a conference at New Life. The poster said he “got into a debate” with two prayer team staff members, who monitored him then tracked down his mother and “told her a story that went something along the lines of I ‘wasn’t walking with the lord and could be planning violence.’”
The post includes biographical information that matches Murray’s background — including his involvement in Youth With a Mission, which ran the training center he targeted in last weekend’s rampage.
Other posts also complain of an overbearing mother. At one point, the author said his mother patted him down for CDs, video games and DVDs whenever he returned from an electronics store. In another, the author lambasts Bill Gothard, a Christian evangelist who developed a strict Bible-based home school curriculum.
Kevin Swanson, executive director of the Christian Home Educators of Colorado, of which the Murrays were members, said just 1 percent or 2 percent of the group’s 16,000 families use the curriculum described in the posts.
Swanson said homeschooling should not be considered the cause of Murray’s downward spiral, just as public schools shouldn’t be blamed for a recent shooting rampage at an Omaha mall.
On another Web posting, a person believed to be Murray said that his post-graduation options were limited to missionary work or attending Oral Roberts University, the flagship university of charismatic Christianity. A fast-growing subset of evangelical Christians, charismatics and Pentecostals believe the Holy Spirit continues to show signs and wonders in the world, including speaking in tongues, prophesy and miraculous healings.
Murray ended up enrolled in “disciple training school,” a sort of Missionary 101 program run by Youth With a Mission, one of the world’s largest evangelical Christian mission groups.
A troubled man emerges
But warning signs soon emerged at the residential program in Arvada, a Denver suburb.
A former YWAM staff member, Michael Werner, told The Rocky Mountain News that Murray was painfully shy and had trouble socializing after growing up sheltered. Later, he exhibited extreme mood swings, spreading rumors about homosexuality at the center and performing dark rock songs by Marilyn Manson and Linkin Park at a 2002 Christmas celebration.
One night, Werner said Murray was chattering to himself and explained he was “just talking to my voices.”
Murray was to take a mission trip to Bosnia, but YWAM officials said he was kicked out of the program for unspecified “health reasons.”
Murray directed his anger toward Christianity and religion in general. Posting on a suicide chat group, a user who went by “dyingchild_65” pledged to “make a stand for the weak and defenseless ... this is for all the young people still caught in the Nightmare of Christianity ... for all those people.”
He fixated on people and groups that explore the dark side of spirituality, becoming obsessed with the satanic lyrics of Swedish metal bands.
Murray attended events held by the Denver-based occult group Ad Astra Oasis during the last two years, but was turned down when he sought to become a member of the group. His involvement with them apparently ended in October.
Ultimately, Murray’s rage took him to the front steps of his former YWAM dormitory and New Life Church.
The senior pastor of New Life, Brady Boyd, said he believes his church might have been an “ignition point” for a man with long-standing emotional problems. While Boyd said it was sad that the gunman was raised in the Christian faith and turned against it, he believes the rampage had less to do with faith than with Murray’s “organic makeup.”
Pastor: A battle ensued
As a charismatic pastor, Boyd also believes a supernatural battle between good and evil is at work.
“If you read the Bible, there are angelic and demonic forces at work on the earth today,” he said. “But I also think that many times, those evil forces take advantage of people who already have existing conditions.”
Church officials say Murray’s name appeared on a visitors’ card several years ago, and online postings thought to be made by Murray described disgraced founding pastor Ted Haggard as his mother’s favorite pastor.
Some of Murray’s vitriol was published on a site catering to ex-Pentecostals.
Joe Istre, who runs the site and is president of the Association of Former Pentecostals, said that while people who leave any faith traditions hold grudges, leaving Pentecostalism carries unique challenges. That includes feeling isolated from family and former friends, and emotional scars from leaving churches with dictatorial pastors and little financial transparency.
”Not that it was a necessary ingredient, but his Pentecostalism was part of the recipe” of the shootings, Istre said.
In an Internet post about four hours before the shootings at New Life, a poster going by “DyingChild_65” said he searched for spiritual answers.
All the poster found in Christianity was “hate, abuse (sexual, physical, psychological, and emotional), hypocrisy, and lies.”
The rant ended:“I’m going out to make a stand for the weak and the defenseless this is for all those young people still caught in the Nightmare of Christianity for all those people who’ve been abused and mistreated and taken advantage of by this evil sick religion Christian America this is YOUR Columbine.”