A Teacher of Mercy

At 10:56 on the morning of June 19, 1991, on a Jackson, Mississippi, street, 33-year-old Matt Devenney was gunned down. Moments before, Devenney, who was executive director of The Community Stewpot, had confronted John D. Smith, a patron at the soup kitchen, about having a gun. According to a witness, Smith responded by telling Devenney he was the governor of Mississippi, then walked across the street, turned, and fired. Devenney was hit twice in the chest.

"I told Matt to run with me, but he wouldn't run," said Fred Logan, who was standing beside Devenney just before the shooting. "I believe he got scared."

But other friends of Matt Devenney have a different understanding. They say Matt knew that behind him were men from the streets waiting to eat lunch, take showers, and visit the clinic connected to Stewpot. Concerned for their safety, Matt had walked toward Smith in an effort to talk him out of shooting into the crowd. He paid for his courage with his life, taking one of the bullets at point-blank range.

Men at the soup kitchen wept openly. News of the tremendous loss spread quickly through Jackson's streets. Kathy Devenney was teaching Bible school for a group of young neighborhood children when she got word that her husband had been shot.

The phone rang at Sojourners around one o'clock with the tragic news. Julie Propst, our receptionist, took the call. Julie had been director of Stewpot before coming to Washington, and Matt Devenney was a very close friend.

At about the same time, John D. Smith was arrested. He was carrying a .32-caliber revolver. Police charged him with murder.

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