A reason to hope – and heal – in Broken Arrow
By John Dobberstein, Editor
and Brittany Harlow, Contributing Writer
Ten days ago, an unimaginable loss of life occurred that left many in Broken Arrow in shock and disbelief.
The site of 6 children being found dead in the back bedroom of a small, burning house, with their parents dead nearby, left police officers and firefighters reeling, and a city struggling to understand the motive.
On Sunday, about 150 people gathered for a community-wide prayer service at First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, where they reflected on the tragedy and what residents can do to support each other going forward.
Executive Pastor Steve Smith said Broken Arrow Ministerial Assistance (BAMA) Team Leader Pastor Rich Manganaro asked them to hold the event the day after the 8 bodies were found.
“We love our city and in times like these it is our responsibility, but also our privilege to do what we can to provide hope and healing,” Smith said.
The husband and wife who perished in the Oct. 27 incident were Brian Anthony Nelson, 34, and Britney Nichole Nelson, 32. Police have identified them as the “suspects” in the killings.
The children who died have unofficially been named as 13-year-old Brian II, Brantley, 9, Vegeta, 7, Ragnar, 5, Kurgan, 2, and Britannica, 1.
The Broken Arrow police and fire departments, ATF, Oklahoma State Fire Marshal’s Office and Oklahoma State Medical Examiner’s Office are continuing to investigate. Police said they don’t believe the victims died from the fire.
Broken Arrow Fire Chief Jeremy Moore gave a moving reflection of hope, recalling watching first responders process the scene and work through the emotions.
“As I saw them working together, I looked upon the faces of our personnel and into their eyes and I could see the pain and anguish,” Moore said.
Moore said he began to think to himself how they would be able to get through yet “another one,” referencing the 2015 Bever murders, in which a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old killed their two parents and three siblings.
“No one should have to face this in a lifetime,” Moore said. “Much less twice in the last decade.”
But, Moore continued, as he watched Broken Arrow first responders interact at last month’s crime scene, his own heart started to heal.
“Over the roar of the fire engines and equipment on scene, I began to see our firefighters and our police officers reach out and embrace one another,” Moore said. “I saw the head nod as if to say, ‘I understand, it’s going to be okay, pull it together here on scene, we’re going to make it through this.’”
Moore said community support then began to pour in, and he realized in that moment of chaos his hope was being restored.
Broken Arrow Police Chief Brandon Berryhill and Broken Arrow Mayor Debra Wimpee also offered reflections of hope and thanked their first responders during Sunday night’s service.
Berryhill said the deaths caused him to reflect on what it means to be first responder, and how important resiliency is for them and the city.
“This evening, the days leading up to tonight are a part of the equation for resiliency,” he said. “We will pray, we will weep tonight, but all us in this church, this neighborhood and in our city will be resilient together.”
Wimpee lamented the “precious, innocent” children who were taken from their remaining family, and called for more to be done nationwide to address mental illness. “Mental illness coupled with evil has tragic endings -- endings we cannot begin to understand,” she said.
And to police and firefighters, “Thank you for always answering the call no matter how how heart wrenching it might turn out to be,” she added.
Pastors prayed for protection over the city, for peace and comfort, and the city’s first responders moving forward.
“I’m hoping as prayers go forth tonight that there will be something that will happen in Heaven and that Heaven will come down and invade Broken Arrow,” said Manganaro, “and that Heaven makes a difference in our lives.”
The service ended with a final word of hope from First Baptist Church Senior Pastor Matt Brooks.
“I remember when I heard this news I was struck,” Brooks said. “I have five children of my own. It’s unimaginable. But it’s now within the bounds of God’s love and grace and mercy.”
Brooks then asked those attending Sunday’s service to never be the same.
“Let’s take the intentionality to love one another,” Brooks said. “To listen. To care for each other. To give what God has given us. To be a blessing. So, whether that’s a phone call, or a text, whether that’s a meal. All of us need encouragement.”