Out of darkness: Hundreds fill church to honor memory of slain sexton

A darkened sanctuary at Moscow’s First Presbyterian Church somehow seemed appropriate for the last memorial of those killed by a sniper last month.

A blustery storm knocked out power seconds before a remembrance for church caretaker Paul Bauer was scheduled to begin.

“As unexpected things happen, we gather and get through them anyway,” said First Presbyterian Pastor Norman Fowler, who led the memorial Tuesday morning as planned.

More than 250 people gathered at the Moscow church where the service for Bauer marked the beginning of the end to a tragic chapter in the college town’s history.

On May 19, Jason Hamilton went on a shooting spree. He first killed his wife, Crystal Hamilton, then opened fire on the Latah County Courthouse. Moscow Police Officer Lee Newbill died from three gunshot wounds when he tried to stop the violence. Bauer, 62, was riddled with eight bullets inside the church’s sanctuary before Hamilton turned the gun on himself.

“We cannot remember Paul’s life without remembering the violence that took him from us,” Fowler said. “But it doesn’t take away the joy we had of knowing him.”

Those who attended the services referred to Bauer as: “grateful,” “funny,” “someone who helped the lil ol’ ladies,” “a giver,” “a hard worker,” a video-game enthusiast and a pay-it-forward type of man.

“He’d help anyone, even a total stranger,” said Julie Sperry, who lived next door to Bauer for a year. But Sperry’s favorite memory of Bauer was of his daily visits: “He’d show up at 6 a.m. singing ‘Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah’ day every morning.”

The Bronx-born Bauer endeared himself to many in the community, and was known for telling tales about his life, including his troubled past and struggles with alcohol addiction.

“At times, even as he told stories of his life – he was working it out for himself,” Fowler said.

As a youth in New York, Bauer had hung out with a group of boys; “not a gang, really,” Fowler recalled the church caretaker saying. Those boys all went to fight in the Vietnam War, but only Bauer returned. “That wasn’t easy for Paul,” Fowler said.

Bauer served in the Navy. He was aboard the USS Forrestal in July 1967 when it caught fire, killing and wounding hundreds of the crew, according to Bauer’s written life history compiled by those who knew him. Bauer was awarded a medal for heroic efforts that day.

After the war, Bauer worked as a machinist in California until the mid-1990s. He was also an artist – a painter and welder.

Bauer and his second wife, Bonnie, arrived in Idaho in 2003 and decided to stay, but shortly after their arrival Bonnie died.

Bauer did odd jobs in the Moscow-area during the last four years, but when Fowler met him in the fall of 2005 he was homeless and struggling with alcoholism.

“He was still reeling from the loss of his second wife,” Fowler said.

Bauer began attending the church, and by the time he was asked to be its caretaker last October, he’d joined an Alcoholics Anonymous group. .

“He talked to me about redemption. He knew God had forgiven him, but he hadn’t forgiven himself,” said Fowler, just seconds before the church’s power was restored. “But as he talked, I think he’d also found the light.”

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