With the announcement today that the Alabama Attorney General’s office filed a motion with the Jefferson County Circuit Court not to move forward with the prosecution of former Birmingham minister Richard Shahan, The Alabama Baptist pulled two past articles to provide historical reference to the case. A news release from the AG’s office says “a thorough review of the evidence and comprehensive attempts to discover new evidence led to the conclusion that the evidence currently in the State’s possession is insufficient to move forward with prosecution.” The release also says that the case could be prosecuted at a later date if additional evidence is discovered. More details to come on the story.
Editor’s Note — The first article below was written at the time of Richard Shahan’s arrest Jan. 2, 2014. The article below it was written three days after Karen Shahan’s body was discovered July 23, 2013.
Shahan arrested; courts records say he stabbed, killed his wife
TAB — Jan. 2, 2014
After more than five months of near silence, investigators in the Karen Shahan murder case made a bold move Jan. 1 when they arrested her husband, Richard Shahan, at the Nashville International Airport.
On Jan. 10 court records released said Richard Shahan killed his wife by stabbing and cutting her with an unknown object.
He was held without bond at Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee and then waived his right to extradition in a hearing Jan. 7. He was returned to Jefferson County on Jan. 8 and classified as “violent, general population,” but was awaiting a cell assignment. He is being held in protective custody for his own safety, al.com reported.
Richard Shahan, former children and families pastor of First Baptist Church, Birmingham, was attempting to board a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, reportedly on his way to work with Bible Mission International (BMI) for three years.
The Alabama Baptist and other news sources had previously reported Richard Shahan’s plans for departing the country to develop teaching materials and discipleship resources through BMI to be distributed throughout former Soviet countries.
But on Dec. 31, 2013, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office had enough recent developments in the case to obtain a murder warrant for Richard Shahan’s arrest, according to myfoxal.com. Homeland Security ICE agents then arrested Richard Shahan the next day before he boarded his flight, fearing that he may try to avoid murder charges by fleeing to Russia from Germany. Officials did not say why they believed he would flee Germany but they did note that there is no formal extradition treaty between the United States and Russia.
Charles T. Carter, interim pastor of First, Birmingham, said Richard Shahan “was not ‘fleeing’ the country. His plans had been known and publicized ever since early November … to provide leadership to BMI’s children’s ministry in Kazakhstan (where he had served on two previous missions trips while at FBC).”
On Dec. 29, 2013, Carter said the church held a public commissioning and prayer time for Richard Shahan at the conclusion of the morning worship service.
“At my suggestion early on he received a written statement from his legal counsel that in their opinion he was free to leave/return to the USA,” Carter said. “He was not fleeing; he was en route to assume a new position as a missionary.”
But Homewood Police Chief Jim Roberson said he is confident that the police have obtained the warrant for the person responsible for the murder.
Details as to why Richard Shahan was arrested at this point in the investigation are limited but Roberson did confirm in a press conference Jan. 2 that investigators had established a motive and have physical evidence.
“It will become readily apparent as we move into the trial process,” Roberson said in the conference. “There are very few new details of which we can go into great elaboration because it is an ongoing investigation.”
Richard Shahan’s attorneys Wendell Sheffield and John Lentine said statements about Richard Shahan’s fleeing the country were misleading.
“Some of the inferences that were put out there in the news conference made it sound like Richard was trying to leave the country and never come back,” Lentine said, according to al.com.
“The chief is saying, ‘We’ve got our man,’ then saying it’s an ongoing investigation. … The reality is they’ve always looked at Richard, and they didn’t bother to look any further than that,” Lentine said.
Karen Shahan’s body was discovered July 23, around 11:15 a.m., inside her home in Homewood. Police still have not confirmed exactly how she was killed although some reports state she was stabbed to death.
Richard Shahan was jailed for investigative purposes Aug. 7, 2013, and was released Aug. 9 without being charged.
First, Birmingham, released a statement Jan. 2 that read in part, “All of us are saddened by the unexpected news that Richard Shahan was arrested.”
FBC Birmingham members rally around staff member in death of his wife
TAB — Aug. 1, 2013
Charles T. Carter was already preaching a summer sermon series on the Psalms at First Baptist Church, Birmingham, when the words of Psalm 73:16–17 became a stronghold for the congregation. They faced a tragedy never imagined possible.
Karen Shahan — wife of Richard Shahan, children and families pastor — was murdered in their home, just across the parking lot from the church. She was found late morning July 23 by church officials after not showing up for a previously scheduled appointment and work. The investigation was still in process at press time.
“We have to take this tragedy and see it against the framework of our Christian faith,” said Carter, who has been interim pastor of First, Birmingham, since October 2012.
Carter also served with the Shahans in the late 1980s and 1990s at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Vestavia Hills. The Shahans have been at First, Birmingham, since 2009.
Richard Shahan is known as one of the best in Southern Baptist life when it comes to children’s ministry, Carter noted. “He is a master when it comes to children’s programs.”
In fact, the astute quality and successful results of the recent Vacation Bible School at First, Birmingham, still linger in the church’s fellowship hall, figuratively and literally.
“We had 139 kids and 54 adults involved,” Carter said, noting there were 25 professions of faith.
Richard Shahan wrote the curriculum based on the choices Daniel made and designed the set and costumes. “It was masterful.”
“And Karen was so supportive of Richard in his ministry,” Carter added. “She was shy and quiet and preferred to fade into the background, but she was extremely supportive of him.”
Karen Shahan, 52, made her profession of faith as a teenager at First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla. “She was a humble, sincere person,” Carter said.
Karen Shahan also was known for her soprano voice in the choir.
“She was a fine, fine Christian lady and a faithful member of the choir,” said Don Campbell, who served as minister of music and worship (1993–2009) and later pastor of senior adults and pastoral care (2010–2012) at First, Birmingham.
“[Karen] was always positive, always supportive and encouraging,” said Campbell, who now serves as minister of worship at The Baptist Church at McAdory, McCalla.
Campbell said Karen Shahan “worked a lot behind the scenes. … She was always so positive and so gracious in opening her home to staff and others.”
Her death has been a shock to the First, Birmingham, congregation, Carter said, but the congregation has pulled together to help.
Two church staff members immediately drove to Kentucky to pick up Richard and drive him back home when Karen was found, Carter noted. Richard had been in Franklin, Tenn., and Fort Campbell, Ky., visiting his and Karen’s sons, Kyle and Colin. Kyle lives in Franklin, and Colin is in the Army serving at Fort Campbell. Colin and his wife, Elizabeth, have two children.
A church ministry assistant helped Colin navigate the red tape involved in getting a military pass to be off post for an extended period of time.
Church officials also cleaned up the Shahan house once it was released by police and helped with several funeral-related duties, Carter added, noting the church is paying for all funeral expenses as another way to help the family during this time.
Mark Wakefield, associate in the office of global missions and serving as the state chaplaincy strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), said helping the grieving family in practical ways such as what Carter described is how a church can best handle a tragedy such as this.
Church members “have shown up and cut grass or washed dishes or made beds without expecting the family to spend time with them,” he said. “Most of the time people say, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ But people in crisis are not emotionally able to make decisions in that way. Look for ways you can see that needs be taken care of … without having to ask.”
Wakefield also suggested that churches prepare themselves for potential tragedies ahead of time by doing a small group study on how to minister to people in crisis. Learning how to minister to others helps people understand what is “normal for people to experience and feel” during a tragedy, he explained, noting that if a church can be trained in crisis management before a tragedy happens, then the members can minister to each other in the midst of their own grief.
It also is important to stay in touch with the family after the first week of a tragedy because that is when emotional support decreases significantly, Wakefield said.
“Plan to stay in touch with the family a week later, two weeks later, a month later.”
When it comes to a sudden death or even suicide, family members often ask, “I wonder if they had to suffer. I wonder how long they had to suffer.”
People are often let down by the idea that they “couldn’t protect (their family member) or couldn’t keep them from the hurt,” Wakefield said. Church members and leaders need to remind themselves and the hurting family that “no person in Christ dies by himself or herself. No matter what the situation the Lord is faithful to take care of that person even when you couldn’t be there.”
Some other practical tips Wakefield suggested for a church in the midst of a tragedy are:
- Designate one person to be the spokesperson to media from the church. If the church is not comfortable with anyone in the church holding that position, ask for help. Having a designated person helps limit the misinformation that can be shared in the midst of a crisis situation.
- Make sure the designated spokesperson has a prepared statement providing facts and a stated plan. This is designed to “satisfy the media’s curiosity” and “provide assurance that [the church] is doing the things that need to be done to take care of the family and the church.”
- Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local resources, such as a local hospice group, which often have well-trained bereavement specialists. The Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries and its counseling arm, Pathways Professional Counseling, are great resources as well, Wakefield said.
For pastors who have recently faced a tragedy in the church family, Wakefield suggested that the “obvious hurt” be addressed as soon as possible from the pulpit. “The hurt affects the whole church. … [Pastors] need to meet that head on with a message of encouragement and hope.”
During the Wednesday morning and evening prayer services the day after Karen Shahan was found, Carter read the words of Psalm 73 — “… When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God. …”
“We have to avoid thinking that God did this or that this was the will of God,” Carter told The Alabama Baptist. “We may not find answers to this tragedy in the Scripture, but we find something better — His presence. That’s what we have to hold on to, and that’s what Richard will have to hold on to.”
The following Sunday Carter preached from Psalm 46:1 and Romans 8:28.
“With an unshakeable faith in God and confidence in His Word, let us seek to ascertain some eternal truths from this tragedy,” Carter said as he outlined six truths:
- The depravity of human nature (Rom. 3:10, 23).
- The availability of help (Ps. 46:1).
- The brevity of life (James 4:14b).
- The priority of real values (Matt. 6:33, Mark 8:36).
- The sovereignty of God (Rom. 8:28).
- The certainty of hope (Ps. 42:5b, Titus 2:13).
“With all our pain and trauma, may God help us to glean some biblical truths that will bring glory to Him and be a proper tribute to Karen Shahan.”
Carter presided over Karen Shahan’s funeral July 27. Former First, Birmingham, pastor Stan Lewis assisted.
For more information on how your church can be prepared for or how to handle a tragedy, contact Wakefield at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 267, or the office of LeaderCare at ext. 203. To contact Pathways Professional Counseling, call 205-945-0037.