Despite the horrific nature of his final act, the Billy Maxwell whose life was a testimony for Christ until its final moments, is not separated from God, said one of Maxwell’s closest friends at the memorial service for Maxwell, his wife and two teenage children Nov. 6 in Fayetteville.
Maxwell, within a couple hours of meeting with several friends at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church because he “wasn’t himself lately” and agreeing to get professional help, killed his wife and two children, then himself Nov. 2. Every family member was an active, engaged, exemplary member of the church.
Fayetteville police are investigating their own 74-minute delay in sending a response team to the Maxwell house after receiving a 911 call from there, in which the dispatcher heard a person groaning and a gunshot being fired.
Maxwell, his wife Kathy, and children Cameron and Conner were buried in the morning before the 1 p.m. memorial service. Snyder’s 850-seat sanctuary was filled to capacity by 12:20 and the long line of mourners outside the door was directed to a live feed in the fellowship hall where another 750 seats were filled, with people standing around the edge of the room.
With permission of the family’s extended family, John Cook, pastor at Snyder only since June, answered the question on everyone’s mind: “How did we get to today,” he asked solemnly. “How did a family this wonderful come to the end it did?”
Cooke said Maxwell, a commercial realtor apparently doing well financially, “seemed troubled” and “not rational” for an unspecified short period of time. He was “clearly not himself” said Cook.
Maxwell had a wide “band of brothers” in the church where he had been for decades. When on the afternoon of Nov. 2 he realized “some of his thoughts didn’t make sense” he agreed in a meeting of his friends to seek professional help.
Within hours, he and his family were dead. “He never once indicated he had any thoughts of hurting his family or himself,” Cook said.
Cook, former chief chaplain at West Point, preached from Matthew 8 where Jesus slept while a storm arose. Jesus spoke and calmed the storm. Those in the boat with Jesus asked themselves “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
“We had our own storm Monday evening,” Cook said. “It was a sudden and severe storm and it about knocked us out of the ocean.”
“Death is the final enemy,” he said to a room packed with students, church and community members affected by this active, involved family. “But death does not have the final word.”
“It makes a difference who is in your boat when the storm comes,” he said.
Snyder held a prayer vigil on Tuesday evening, one night after the murders. Cook said that after the service “no one wanted to leave, to go home and be alone.” Instead small groups lingered everywhere on campus, taking comfort in the presence of others.
Each of the family members was eulogized by a close friend. George Rose, who quoted Rom. 8:37-39 to say nothing can separate Billy Maxwell from the love of God, said, “Nothing has or ever could take from me the fact that Billy Maxwell is one of the finest men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.”
Friends for 30 years, Rose said Maxwell had a “huge heart and passion for life,” for serving others “and mentoring kids in the hope of bringing them to Christ.”
“At his core, he was infinitely good, noble and true,” Rose said. “It will be a lasting legacy of his life.”
“Billy Maxwell was not and is not separated from the love of God,” Rose said. “He is in God’s house today. Let no one here today doubt that.”
Maxwell coached youth basketball and his son Cameron was a player with high aspirations. His buddy and teammate Tyler Reitz said Cameron, “is in a better place now, playing basketball with his dad.”
Not a harsh word was spoken about Billy Maxwell. Cook quoted Maxwell’s father-in-law John Fox saying at the prayer vigil, “If anyone has reason to be angry at Billy it’s me – and I’m not.”
Because Maxwell’s action was so sudden, so dramatically unlike him and so terrible, all those close to him are attributing the action to mental illness.
Ultimately it is for the church family to wrap its arms around the survivors – and each other – and remember, as their pastor said, to look at the Savior in faith, rather than at the storm in fear.