NORTH AUGUSTA - There are no safe places left in this world.
The Rev. Gary Redding began Tuesday's memorial service for three slain Aiken County social workers with that sobering message.
About 500 people, including Gov. David Beasley and his wife Mary Wood, gathered at the First Baptist Church of North Augusta to honor Josie Curry, 35, Michael Gregory, 30, and James Riddle, 52.
The three caseworkers were shot to death Sept. 16 at the North Augusta office of the Aiken County Department of Social Services. Police say David Mark Hill walked into the office armed with a semi-automatic handgun, upset that his children were being put into foster care.
He later shot himself in the mouth and remains in serious condition at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital. Charges are pending against him for murder, assault and battery with intent to kill and kidnapping, police say.
"We shall never forget Oklahoma City or Dunblane, Scotland, or Montoursville, Pennsylvania," said the Rev. Redding, pastor at First Baptist. "In the past week, however, the grief has come home to us. If you have listened carefully these past eight days, you know the eerie, unforgettable sound of hearts breaking."
Family members of the three slain workers sat on the first three pews, holding one another for comfort. Hands clutching wadded handkerchiefs dabbed away tears. Jackie Riddle, wife of James Riddle, rubbed her son Christopher's back as he leaned forward on the front pew.
Gov. David Beasley and his wife Mary Wood, gathered at the First Baptist Church of North Augusta to honor Josie Curry, 35, Michael Gregory, 30, and James Riddle, 52.Gov. David Beasley and his wife Mary Wood, gathered at the First Baptist Church of North Augusta to honor Josie Curry, 35, Michael Gregory, 30, and James Riddle, 52.
The sanctuary and balcony of the church were filled with friends, neighbors, elected officials and DSS staff. Some cradled white and pink carnations in their arms.
Mr. Beasley, who met privately with family members before the service, said trying to comfort family members and friends was a hard task because no one can truly understand their pain.
"We come here confused, quite frankly hurting. Some of us are rather numb," he said during the memorial service. "Others of us are just rather angry about this senseless act of violence that's inexcusable. We wonder if we will ever know peace again."
In brief remarks, Aiken County DSS Director Margaret Key said social workers often see the "sad and darker side of human nature (on their jobs) but none of us were prepared for this."
She eulogized Ms. Curry, Mr. Riddle and Mr. Gregory as "good and faithful servants."
"How fortunate we were to have known them and how blessed America was to have had them in service," Ms. Key said.
Since the slayings, questions have been raised about security at DSS offices statewide. Mr. Beasley said feedback is being sought from all county offices as part of a full security review.
But the governor echoed concerns of DSS officials who have said they need to balance security with the mission to serve the public.
"How do you draw the line? At what point does our freedom become so expensive, we can't stand it anymore?" he asked.
A fund for the eight children of the slain caseworkers has been set up at the SRP Federal Credit Union, P.O. Box 6730, North Augusta, 29861. Contributions should be made payable to "The DSS Worker's Children's Fund."
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