Beside the terrible tragedy surrounding this story, we are left with the question of why. Why things like this occur among God’s people.
I don’t have an answer.
I recall a similar account years ago, shortly after joining Christian author Chip Bogden’s fellowship, The WayStation. A member had posted a prayer request for the family of a pastor’s wife who had committed suicide. At the time it lead to a discussion among us as to how this could happen to a child of God. I was reminded of that discussion when reading this.
From the Dallas News:
HENRIETTA, Texas – The train whistle blows several times a day in this North Texas community, the familiar soundtrack of life in small towns located along railroad lines.
But since late last month, the sound has become a haunting reminder of the evening when a beloved couple stepped onto the tracks and stood in embrace until a train ran them down.
The double suicide of the Rev. Eldon Earl Johnson, 69, and his wife, Linda Kay, 61, was particularly shocking because of the key role the Johnsons played in helping nearby Ringgold rise from the ashes after nearly being destroyed by wildfires three years ago.
Why the popular minister and his wife took their lives is a secret that they carried to their graves. But their deaths have left a community struggling to plumb the mysteries of the human heart.
During a memorial service last week, the couple’s three grown children, adopted son and daughter, 10 grandchildren and hundreds of friends and neighbors gathered to pay tribute to the Johnsons.
A minister asked anyone who had been helped or encouraged by the couple to stand up. Everybody stood.
“After those fires three years ago, he and his wife helped to distribute food and clothing to people who lost their homes, who had nothing left,” said Randy McCormack, 71, one of three pastors who officiated at the service.
By all accounts, the Johnsons, married for 43 years, were a happy couple who liked to hold hands and who were well-known and liked in Henrietta, 18 miles east of Wichita Falls. Their lives revolved around the daily visits to the Dairy Queen, where Linda worked as a cook. They ministered to the needs of their small church congregation in Ringgold and attended just about every sporting event involving their children and grandchildren.
Nobody knew of any devastating financial problems or illnesses, said Melissa Brock, their 41-year-old daughter who lives in Henrietta.
They left no note.
Many who crossed paths with the Johnsons on the day they died have wracked their brains trying to think of something that might have seemed odd or out of character.
That Tuesday, June 30, began like any other day. McCormack recalls sitting with Eldon at the Dairy Queen on West Omega Street, the main drag that becomes U.S. Highway 82. “I had coffee with him,” McCormack said. “He was happy-go-lucky. Nothing to pick up on.”
The DQ manager, Jo Vardell, said Linda worked her usual 6 a.m.-to-2 p.m. shift. The manager said she had just finished drawing up a new work schedule, and Linda asked if she was supposed to come in the next day. When told yes, Linda responded, “See you in the morning.”
About 5 p.m., the Johnsons called their son, Jason, 35, in Wichita Falls, where he works as an analyst for the regional planning commission.
Jason, who is separated from his wife, was staying at his parents’ home. Jason was driving his parents’ red Chevrolet Cavalier, because his truck’s air conditioning was on the fritz. But the elder Johnson told Jason he wanted to exchange vehicles with him – the Chevy needed some scheduled maintenance done in Wichita Falls.
Because of the late hour, “that seemed odd,” Jason said, but he didn’t give it much more thought. He met his parents a little before 6 p.m. inside a local department store.
The rendezvous was so casual that Jason doesn’t even remember saying goodbye. The only odd sign came a little later.
While waiting at a traffic light near the mall, Jason noticed his parents stopped at the intersection. His dad gave Jason a slight wave, but his mom stared straight ahead. It was perhaps another telltale sign, Jason said.
His mother was outgoing, and it wasn’t like her not to wave.
There might have been a reason his mother seemed preoccupied. For months, she had been carrying on an argument with her adopted son, Jerry, 20, about his engagement, which she vehemently opposed.
The Johnsons had taken in Jerry and his sister, Harley, 16, as foster children in 2000. They had formally adopted them the following year. Jerry, a standout high school athlete, had been attending Midwestern State University. But in February, he enlisted in the Army. About the same time, he became engaged to a woman whom he had met in school.
From the time Jerry told his parents about his engagement, his mother had been angry about it, Jerry said. “They didn’t like her,” he said. He thinks they also were angry that he had kept the relationship hidden from them until announcing his engagement in February.
Jerry had recently transferred to Fort Sill, Okla., about 60 miles north of Wichita Falls. A private first class, he is in training to become a tank operator.
Jerry gave this account of the day his parents died. About 6 p.m. that day, he was at the base, learning how to operate and maintain a tank. His cellphone buzzed with a text from his mother.
He said his mother’s text read: “We’re going to see Jesus tonight, and it’s for you.”
The text also said that he shouldn’t come to their funeral. Alarmed, Jerry quickly replied with his own text: “How is that?”
“You will see later tonight,” his mother wrote.
“What are you going to do?” wrote Jerry.
“You will see later tonight,” she replied.
Jerry didn’t know what to make of his mother’s text and wasn’t sure what to do.
Meanwhile, Jerry’s brother, Jason, arrived at his parents’ house about 9:30 p.m. after stopping to eat dinner in Wichita Falls.
The sheriff’s deputy knocked on the door a few minutes later. Jason told him that he figured his parents had gone out to dinner in Wichita Falls and hadn’t returned yet.
About 10:45 p.m., the sheriff’s office received a phone call from a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper. A railroad worker had just flagged down the trooper to report that a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train heading westbound through Henrietta had just struck two pedestrians.
Arriving on the scene, Sheriff Kenny Lemons walked about 500 yards east from the railroad crossing at South Graham Street (State Highway 148), where he found the Johnsons’ bodies under a railway car. About the same time, a deputy found the couple’s red Chevy parked on the side of the road just south of the railroad crossing.
Three train employees gave statements that indicated the train had just come over a hill and was headed toward a trestle at the 95 mile marker when the couple was spotted standing on the tracks.
One worker wrote that he saw the woman standing between the rails and then saw the man stepping onto the tracks at the last minute to join her. The engineer applied the emergency brake, but it was too late to stop the train, which the sheriff said was traveling about 30 mph through the town.
All three statements from the workers were in agreement on one item: The couple was embracing and turned their heads away from the train just before impact.