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Excerpt from ‘A Book of American Martyrs’ by Joyce Carol Oates

"A Book of American Martyrs" by Joyce Carol Oates. Credit: Ecco


Only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

The Lord commanded me. In all that befell, it was His hand that did not waver.

Cries rang out — “Stand back!”

It was Voorhees at whom the shotgun was first aimed. The abortion doctor in a hoarse voice sternly saying, “Stand back! Put down that gun!”

And others crying, “No! No!”

So swiftly the Lord executed my movements, there was not time in the eyes of the enemy to register fear or alarm. There was no terror but only raw surprise. As I strode into the driveway in the wake of the abortion providers’ Dodge minivan with the shotgun to my shoulder and barrels uplifted there were many who stared at me in astonishment and awe for protesters had been forbidden by law to assemble in the driveway as for several years we had been forbidden to assemble with our picket signs or even in prayer in the grassless yard in front of the Broome County Women’s Center and yet here was one of these, of the Army of God, who some of them knew to be Luther Dunphy, disobeying this law boldly striding past the barrier and following the abortion providers’ minivan up the driveway faster than you would expect a man of his size to move, and without hesitation.

God guide my hand! God do not allow me to fail.

The one of the enemy known as Augustus Voorhees had just climbed out of the van. It was 7:26 a.m. The Women’s Center did not open to admit the clientele (that is, pregnant girls and women who believed they did not wish to become mothers) until 8:00 a.m. The abortion doctor (of my height almost exactly which is six foot one inch and his disheveled graying hair resembling my own) had thought to arrive early to avoid protesters and to enter at the rear of the Center but in his shrewdness there was folly, for the Muskegee Falls police security did not usually arrive until 7:30 a.m. (and sometimes later) and by the time police were summoned on this morning, his life would bleed away like the life of a gut-shot hog. Nor had Voorhees seen me less than six feet close behind him and rapidly overtaking him until a look in his companion’s face roused him to turn with an expression of utter surprise and shock.

“No! Stand back! Don’t — ”

Already in this instant the trigger was being pulled, the barrels aimed at the abortion doctor at above the level of his chest, and the blast of the first barrel knocked Augustus Voorhees backward and tore into his lower jaw and throat in a way terrible to behold as if the Lord had dealt His wrath with a single smote of a great claw; for shrewdly I had aimed high, not knowing if the abortion murderer was wearing a bulletproof vest. (Later it was revealed that Voorhees was not so protected — in defiance of the fate that would befall him.) Yet even so, in the midst of this deafening explosion, the Lord steadied my hands as calmly I turned the barrels onto the accomplice “escort” close by now screaming, “No! No! Don’t shoot!” in clumsy desperation trying to back away and with arms and hands feebly shielding his body but these words came belated, and were no more heeded than the cries of the black-feathered birds flocking in the winter sky overhead as the second shot blasted away the face and much of the throat of the accomplice propelling the now-lifeless body backward as the lifeless body of Voorhees had been propelled, and these bodies crumpled together on the asphalt driveway in front of the van freely gushing blood — within seconds, as the Lord had willed.

In the ecstasy of the Lord coursing through my arms and hands like electricity I scarcely felt the recoil of the blast as it struck my shoulder like the kick of a mule, only the numbness that came after, and an ache deep in the bone.

“God have mercy! God forgive you. . . . ”

These words, I had prepared to murmur as I crouched above the fallen sinner (for I believed that Voorhees would die unrepentant) but at the time of utterance it may have been that I spoke too softly to be heard above the scattered cries and screams behind me.

Few had witnessed the execution. For it was early in the day, and less than a dozen protesters had gathered in front of the Center.

So slowly, these seconds were passing. For it was as if Luther Dunphy stood a little to the side, observing. What he saw and what he heard came mutedly to him from that distance.

Calmly too, for all this the Lord had set out before me like a geological map, that has not the confusion of place-names of an ordinary map but only the sculpted contours of the land, I laid the Mossberg twelve-gauge double-barrel shotgun carefully on the driveway on a little rise of asphalt with cracks perpendicular to each other, that suggested to the eye — (to my eye) — the Cross.

Some twelve feet from the fallen men, and from the weapon (laid against the Cross), and at a perpendicular to the weapon, I knelt.

Between the fallen men and the weapon, and between the weapon and Luther Dunphy, and between Luther Dunphy and the fallen men, in a line might be drawn establishing a triangle of (uneven) sides and at its peak the Cross of Crucifixion you would want to say was accidental in the asphalt and would never have been detected by any human eye, except for the intervention of the Lord guiding my hand.

I am a big man and I am (no longer) a limber man. My knee joints often ache, it is said with the onset of arthritis. The bones of my hips and the muscles of my lower back often ache but in defiance of such pain I never complain to my employer nor to my fellow roofers nor do I suggest any sensation of pain on the job or at home (except if my dear wife notices, and it is not possible to dissemble to her who knows me so well through sixteen years of marriage) and in the aftermath now of the assassination of the abortion provider and his accomplice I took care to kneel with my arms uplifted (though now heavy-seeming, tremulous and numb) to await the arrival of the Muskegee police.

Dear God I commend my soul to You. If it is Your will, I will be joined with

you in Heaven this very hour.

Bowed my head with shut eyes, and eyes rimmed with tears. For I understood that my (mortal) life as Luther Dunphy had ended, in the asphalt driveway of the Women’s Center on this second day of November 1999. My life as a loving Christian husband and father and a private citizen of Muskegee Falls, Ohio. That I was born in Sandusky, Ohio, on March 6, 1960, and would die now, in this place, seemed to me clear for I had “read” this inscription on a grave marker but the night before. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.

In deep prayer they would find me with my arms upraised in the posture of surrender and my hands visible, holding no weapon. Deep-immersed in prayer “as if entranced” but “cooperative” (as it would be reported) as Broome County police officers approached with drawn weapons.

And in my heart I pleaded with the Lord to give me sanctuary with Him in this hour. Pleaded with the Lord, let me make an end of this now. For I will be their captive, and I will be tried in their socialist atheist court of law, that has forsaken You. And I will be jeered at and ridiculed and in the end, in their atheist court I will be sentenced to death. But it will be their way of death which will not be speedy. Truly I understand it will be protracted and shameful and it may be, I will not be strong enough to withstand despair. For a sentence of Death Row will wear away at my soul, in the way that a great abyss is worn out of rock. Pleaded with the Lord in His mercy to allow me to make some threatening gesture to the police upon their arrival, that they would shoot me down where I knelt. That they would execute me in a barrage of bullets that there would be three of us laid lifeless on the asphalt driveway on that morning as a sign to all the world, the abortion butchery must stop.

But the Lord did not give this permission to me, in His inscrutable wisdom. Though the Lord had been close to me as the heart beating in my rib cage now the Lord had withdrawn from me to His mountain, to observe His servant and His soldier in the aftermath of His mission.

And so, I did not die that morning. Instead, the Lord caused a numbness to pass into me, of utter submission. I was handcuffed and taken into the custody of the State of Ohio from which, in my lifetime, I will never be released.

From “A Book of American Martyrs” by Joyce Carol Oates. Copyright © 2017 by Joyce Carol Oates. Reprinted courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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