Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
January 7th, 2004

Tears for the Life of Jenny Sooter

The Dire Consequences of Rigid Religion


Election year 2004 is upon us. As the news media starts to drop other stories and the frenzy begins, the idea of what important news we may miss due to this political preoccupation gives me pause.

What aren’t we hearing about that’s more important than the latest round of endorsements?

A different election year

One storythat fell through the cracks during the 2000 election debacle hit close to home for me.

Lost among the recounts and court battles of November 2000, I had to do a fair amount of online digging to even pull up the local press coverage, finally unearthing a headline at the Kansas City Star web site: “Northland church grieves deaths of pastor’s wife, daughter.

The write-up was a simple one. Mary Lee Sooter, 56, had shot and killed her daughter, 24-year-old Jenny Sooter, before turning the gun on herself in the downstairs hallway of the suburban Kansas City parsonage of the Eagle Heights Baptist Church. Husband and father, the Rev. Tom Sooter, was next door in the church fellowship hall, leading a men’s prayer breakfast.

Jenny Sooter and me
I knew Jenny Sooter back in high school. Our families were acquainted, and she attended the Eagle Heights Christian school, a “sister ministry” to the Tri-City Baptist Church, whose high school I attended.

As juniors and seniors, our
schools often combined for events and chapel services when well-known evangelists came to town. These were those fabled Midwestern K-12 church schools that make Footloose look like Fire Island. Far more concerned with haircuts and hemlines, the state of one’s soul was touted as the ultimate focus, when in reality it was of much less value than the outward, legalistic conservatism that one projected via clothing that adhered strictly to the dress codes.

The ways to lose your soul
As I searched through the news accounts and police reports from my desk in Los Angeles, I felt a knot form and then explode in the pit of my stomach. Detective Andrew Dorothy of the Kansas City police department told reporters on November 6, 2000, that “[Mary Lee Sooter] had scriptures written out beside her bed” and she talked in her notes about how she hated the rebelliousness of her daughter.

I called my dad from my office that day and he informed me that Rev. Sooter had been planning to resign for weeks due to his daughter’s desire to leave the church and move out of their family home. “You see, son?” Dad said. “This just goes to show you that we are all capable of unspeakable evil when we take our eyes off the Savior.”

I wanted to scream at the sky and throw the phone to the ground. “How can you watch this happen and miss the point?” I wanted to yell. “Mary Lee Sooter didn’t ‘take her eyes off of God’ and then shoot her daughter! Her eyes were so full of God that she was blinded to the difference between shooting her daughter with a gun in north Kansas City in 2000 AD, and the ancient Levitical law that ordered rebellious sons and daughters to be stoned to death at the gates of the city.”

But I didn’t yell. And I didn’t scream. I just quietly hung up the phone and sat at my desk, and cried.

When religion hurts
I weep for you, Jenny Sooter; not only for your death, but also for your life. I sat with you in those same pews. I heard those same sermons. I shook in the same fear of a vindictive God who would send me to an eternal punishment for renting the wrong movie, wearing the wrong clothes, listening to the wrong music, or sleeping with the wrong gender. And finally, I too saw the holes in the logic of the violent dogma we were brainwashed by, and I made an escape.

I mourn the life that you will never know, Jenny—free from floral-print dresses and constant fear. I wish that I had been there to help you pack your boxes into your car and move them into your new place. A place where there were fewer straight lines, and more windows with different views of the world, and other colors on the walls besides black and white.

Tears drawing from the NIEHS web site of the National Insitutes of Health.

The Author : Aaron Hartzler
Aaron Hartzler writes from Los Angeles.
See more articles by (1).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Teaching All Nations

    This article and most of the commenters couldn’t be more wrong. Some of you sound like rebels out looking for groupies or approval for you unbiblical actions. Tom Sooter is a great man of God. Listen to his sermons; compare it with scripture; he speaks the truth. If you find him to be strict; it’s because the word of God is strict. Say what you will; call it a cult; call him a manipulator; I’m not here to argue. You don’t answer to me; and I don’t answer to you; but we will all answer to God. Just be honest with yourself about where you stand with the Lord. All I can say is shame on all of you who have spoken falsely against this man. Don’t be a piece of the devils power play. So many people are hurting and dying and going to hell; and you comment here to tear down one of the few truly Godly men we have who’s devoted his life to doing something about it. ~ May God do a great work in all of our hearts; so that we might be used for him.

  • The Letter

    Rest in peace, Jenny.

  • The Letter


  • The Letter

    The Letter…

  • Christina

    I too went to EHCS from kindergarten through 11th grade. I could echo what many have said, but mostly I just want to say that I’m glad we all remember Jenny, and I’m glad her soul is at rest. It’s sad that her life isn’t better remembered or celebrated. I have searched the web and haven’t been able to find an obituary, a picture, nothing. A couple of articles on her death, and this one tribute. I’m so glad Aaron wrote this, her story needs to be told. I have often felt moved to visit her grave, but I can’t find any record of where she was buried. If anyone knows, please share here, I’ll check back periodically.

  • Steph

    Awwww, Bre. You are a true Sooterite. You see, you don’t have to wear skirts, avoid pork, not own a t.v., live at home until you are married, or most anything else Tom Sooter tells you. he is a master manipulator. He is a false teacher that would rather talk about the power of demons and satan than the grace and love of God. I’m so thankful God doesn’t look at me through the lenses of Tom Sooter. Jenny was a young lady that just wanted to find her own way in this world. She wasn’t possessed. She wasn’t a bad person. She wasn’t rebellious. She just realized the lies her own parents had brainwashed her to believe. I remember seeing Jenny with her family on a number of occasions at various places. She appeared to be drugged. Would I put it past the Sooters? Hardly. A once vibrant, funny young lady was being held hostage by a pair of whacko parents!!

  • Bre

    Btw, my cousin right now is mad at me becuas I won’t ditch church to go with her on vacation. I told her I’d go and find a church out there where we are going, and go and then meet her after church, but she says never mind about going. She swears that I’m in a cult. Just because I wear skirts instead of pants and because I don’t drink or swear. Why is it that homosexuals can live the way that they want, and can be vocal about what they beleive about life, and people who don’t believe in God live how they want, and muslims and buddhists are looked at like,”That’s what they believe and we shouldn’t disrespect that.” but for me, I’m in a “cult” and automatically branded as “brainwashed” and people say rude things about me all the time? It makes me sad. I have good reasons for what I decide to do with my life, why don’t people get that? Pants for example, I know that I’ve got a nice body, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it from creeps all the time. So because of that and because the Bible also says that we should be adorned in modest apparel (so that we don’t make men lust after us and cause someone to fall), I don’t where pants. Whats wrong with that?

  • Bre

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read. People want the life product of some who walks with God and lives right, which is fulfillment, a biblical marriage with a faithful; spouse, children who are obedient, and strength to survive trails in life, without wanting to go through the right process to get there, which is actually reading your bible and asking God to work in your heart and life through prayer. They don’t do those things they resists the process and THEN they blame the process that the didn’t follow all the way in the first place for the life they lead. If you do read your KJV Bible then you will know that demonic oppression and possession are real things and none of you would be so quick to throw Bro. Sooter under the bus. If he was really was the one who was wrong and possessed then how is it that Jeana was ans is okay? How is it that he and his wife now are happy and serving the Lord? How is it that his family is in a Independent Fundamental Baptist Church and serving God with lives that are holy and acceptable unto God? His granddaughter is in my Sunday school class and she is a healthy, happy little girl and she loves her grandpa! I just wonder about the people that blast the churches, is it that they are not preaching the Bible or that you just don’t want to hear about what God says you should and should not do?

  • Mical Turner

    I went to this church when I was about 15 years old, I think that is the reason I am a atheist today. I joined the military when I was 18 and my family still went to EH church. I hated going there and was always dragged kicking and screaming every Sunday. I knew Jenny Sooter and was very sad to hear of her being murdered by her mother. My mom told me years later that she was a very mentally sick woman. The way I understand the story to go, and this was told to me about 11-12 years ago, was that Jenny was moving out and had planned to work at a bar and her mom flipped out. Of course, this was information that had been probably told and retold, so who knows how reliable it really is. I do believe that the church is a cult. They tried to brainwash me, and when I say they, I mean pastor Sooter. I hope that idiot gets his one day. I mean, really, who doesn’t let women wear pants? I would like to see someone today tell me what I can and can’t wear. But I digress, I hope Jenny rests in piece, she deserved a better life than what she got from those idiots.

  • disqus_dgEXxvVBCL

    Im so glad this has been put out there.. I would love to get people together to actually talk about this. I would also love to know the truth somehow. Its been eating at me for over a decade..
    I know there was a big cover up and I know that if we all pull together we can find out what really happened.

  • Kaci

    I just recently got away from Eagle Heights. I went to the school and church there all of my life, I am in my senior year of high school now and am so glad to be gone! I remember Jenny and her mother quite well,although I was 5 when this all happened. Jenny was that bright shining smile in my Sunday school class, and my babysitter. She would kiss me on the cheek every Sunday morning on the way into church when we went through the greeting line.I have 2 older siblings who were in class at the time of the shooting, and who heard the gun shots. Now they are so far from God that it saddens me, because of the terrible situations that this cult has just swept under the rug. There are many! Eagle Heights was all I had known til last December I decided to go to a different youth group because of being treated badly and judged by the leaders of the EH youth group. I am SOOOO happy to be out of there!!The reason I am saying all of this is to let all of you know, there are still kids that go there. There are still kids who live in fear of asking questions or even talking to their parents. “The Tragedy” as Eagle Heights calls the shooting, is not allowed to be asked about or addressed in any way, ever. And that to me is just wrong. They have actually convinced some of their children that if they talk about it, they are opening themselves up for demon possesion. WRONG!! SO WRONG!! I pray for my friends that still go there, and the unhappy families that fill that church. I would ask that you might do the same…

  • Norma Ebert

    I am so happy to see that people are still commenting on the life of Jenny Sooter and what happened to her.I am also very happy to see that most comments are from people who see the truth of the tragedy. Jenny was precious, and was loved by all who knew her. She was a friend of my sons and the way she died was life changing for him. Jenny was not demon possessed but her Dad was and still is. Tom Sooter is a failure as a Christian,a Pastor, a Spiritual leader, a Father and a Husband. He is a Failure as a human being. There is no doubt about any of these facts because we have his life in full view to attest to the truth of who he is and who he is not. I could have made more since out of this senseless act if Jenny had shot her parents, she sure had cause. I continue to blame all the staff of EH for her death as well. They turned their heads while evil was going on around them. In fact they condoned everything by saying nothing. I would give my right arm if I could reverse the decision I made to send my sweet son to that demon possessed institution.They almost destroyed him before I realized what was happening to him. As it turned out the Lord showed us all what EH was really all about.

  • CM

    I’ve read all of the comments here and I couldn’t sit here and not reply. I went to E.H. for several years. Jenny was a year older then I was but we had several classes together. She was also a very good friend of mine. If you knew Mrs.Sooter, the REAL one, not the “new” ms.Sooter, then you know what she was like. She was very sweet, shy,& quiet. She was always kind to everyone. I truly believe she was brainwashed as well by Tom Sooter. Alot of us were. Tom Sooter is literally the most manipulative, cunning, sociopath. I’m curious why nobody has mentioned or talked about The Letter he sent out to exclusive members at the church explaining what REALLY happened that day.I wish someone would be bold enough to reveal the letter to the investigators or the news, I truly believe Tom Sooter wouldn’t be a free man these days. I personally read this letter because it was sent to my husbands family. In the letter Tom stated that for years Jenny was possessed by the devil. He spoke in great length & details of a few excorcisms he & members of the church did in thier own home to Jenny. One of the stories he spoke of was during one of the excorcisms, absolutely chilling. He said that Jenny was on ontop of her bed, on all fours like a dog growling like a demon. That was just one example. I to believe he wrote this letter and used it as a coverup. He stated Jenny was possessed for years, including the time I and everyone else who knew her.He was able to keep it out of the media etc. because of the connections he had with KCPD homocide dept.Nobody talks about it because they’re afraid to. E.H. has more lies and coverup’s then some of you may know or realize and it needs to all be heard & exposed to give justice to Jenny and all the lives that man has haunted and destroyed. The people who consider joining or have joined since this tragic murder have the right to know!It doesn’t just stop with Jenny! EH has many secrets. I’m not suprised either that He used demonic possession as a excuse, there’s also been CHILDREN that were molested by one of their teachers in which Tom Sooter and EH principal NEVER REPORTED to the authorities, they made those involved shut their mouths and told the teacher he must never return. that teacher is still teaching in another state! Back to Jenny. She was a DEAR FRIEND to me and I can honestly say without a doubt there’s NO WAY she was ever possessed by the devil. Jenny was RADIANT. She had a beautiful heart & soul and it showed. Jenny was kind hearted, she truly cared about everyone. Anytime someone was sad or upset she was the first person to go try to comfort them. However if you were upset and tried to confide to her father
    Tom Sooter, he would turn it around on you, as if you were wordly, or satan was attacking you leaving you terrified, confused, and hopeless. Seems more like he was the one that was actually possessed! he was OBSESSED with spiritual warfare and still is to this day. It scares me to hear he is out there counseling and rebuilding the cults he has made it to be. i truly believe he is some kind of false “prophet” He is a MONSTER and my prayers go out to all the people who are being mislead by him to this day. the “Anonymous” who wrote the last comment on here, I’m grateful and proud of you for telling the truth. I know almost all of you who has left a comment and I just want to tell you I’m proud of you also for telling the truth. i pray for each of you and I KNOW you have been hurt and manipulated by Tom Sooter and some of the members at EH, some more than others, but I hope you all know- that time in all our lives should be a lesson on how not to be. There are some family’s at EH that are TRUE Christians, but as for the people that have helped Tom cover up all his lies and manipulations will be judged by God and God alone. Tom Sooter will be judged by God and God alone. Don’t let that hoorific and traumatic time ruin your faith in God. I pray all of you will keep telling the truth and that Jenny will get the justice she deserves! She was an INNOCENT CHILD. There is alot of holes in this, we may not ever know the full truth of it but if we don’t raise our voices and connect all the dots, more lives will be destroyed by Tom and more people will be brainwashed.

  • It”sMe

    J. L., I know the instance you speak of with the staff member. The church paid for his family to move away and the family of the girl in the Anchor Home were paid a large sum of money so this situation would not have to be reported.

  • *Anonymous*

    I was only 12 when this tragedy happened. I don’t remember the details. I heard the gunshots, and we were all ushered into a room where they kept us for a few hours until the police were gone I guess. They prayed and read passages from the Bible, and didn’t tell us what was going on. I remember being confused and scared. I never liked that place. I spent the first 16 or so years of my life trying to be perfect. I heard on a daily basis how imperfect I was. My shirt was too tight, my skirt was too short, my attitude was disrespectful. I assure you, I was a good kid. I realized one day that I was never going to be happy if I believed them about what was important in life. I hold on to the main beliefs about God and Christianity, but I have since realized that God is not the kind of God who would remind children on a daily basis that they aren’t good enough. God is not the kind of God that would require you to go stand on a strangers doorstep, and tell them in a 5 minute speal that Jesus died for their sins and if they don’t believe, they’ll go to hell…a lot of the people that I went to school with have gone either one of two ways, 1) on to college like EH to marry other brainwashed people with no idea about the real world, and raise kids back at EH to keep the cycle going…or 2) having children out of wedlock, strippers, drug and alcohol abusers, etc. I’m NOT saying this is the only 2 options, because I like to think that I myself have found some sort of happy medium, BUT, from the comments I’ve read I see that you all too, have been taught the same things I was, and if you think about your peers that you know, how many of those children who were constantly condemned and made to feel like they were never good enough turned to drugs, alcohol, and unhealthy relationships for fulfillment? I’m just trying to provoke some thought here…Back to what this article is about, I knew Jenny, she watched me in the nursery, and helped out in my Sunday School Classes. She was murdered, and her beautiful life was taken from her before she was even able to experience it. This life was taken from her by her parents…BOTH of them. I don’t care who pulled the trigger. She was told that as a Christian young lady she was supposed to live at home until she got married, and that she was supposed to stay under her father’s authority until that authority was transferred to her husband. She was murdered in cold blood and the blame was placed on HER, and her mother. SHE was possessed by demons, SHE was rebellious…She seemed pretty normal to me. I don’t know many unmarried 24 year olds still living at home, well, except for back at good ole’ EH. I personally think the whole demon stuff was a cover up. Mr. Sooter was obsessed with “spiritual warfare”. My mind is not made up. I have heard people who think that Mr. Sooter pulled the trigger himself. He used to be a cop, and I was told he used to work in the homicide dept. Seems like a double murder you could pin on your wife would be the perfect way out of a marriage and church. I don’t know what I believe, but what I do know is that only a few days after the murders I heard him whistling while walking down the hallway. Maybe it was my child-like innocence, but that gave me the most awful gut-wrenching feeling I think I’ve ever had. Faith in God gives us hope, a purpose, and something to look forward to in the afterlife. It helps us with our moral decisions and important life choices. Hypocritical religion is what these people shove down their childrens’ throats, and ignore that the guilt and feelings of inadequacy are what end up fueling these “rebellious” teenagers fires. There is tragedy everywhere in this story. The idea that Mr. Sooter is still traveling around and counselling is shocking, appalling, and terrifying. He married 10 months after losing his wife and youngest daughter in a murder-suicide, and I was told by somebody who went and visited and met his new wife that she was wearing Jenny’s clothes. This man is a monster. I just wish more people realized it.

  • J.L

    I attended a college that Sooter worked at. He told us students his daughter, Jenny was taken to a satanic ritual and had blood poured on her by a family member of HIS. She was rebellious in her teen years supposedly and his wife couldn’t handle it and then she committed the act. He remarried the current Mrs. Sooter about TEN MONTHS after all of this. He said something that still bugs me, “I am at peace with what happened to my wife and daughter that I could go lay on the spot where they died.” Who says that??!!! I also had quite a few conversations with him. He was always trying to get into my head and convince ME I was a rebellious teen. I honestly had no idea and still to this day what he was trying to do. I know both my parents and MY OWN pastor were in shock when I told them of this and immediately left the college. It is tragic what happened to Jenny and her mother. I would have to agree the way he and the church I attended pushed things on people were too harsh. They also looked the other way when an ADULT male was having sexual relations with a teen from the Anchor home. Instead of contacting the proper authorities they let him leave. I am glad I got away from there when I did. I am saved and believe in God 100% but that man and church was too crazy for my taste.

  • anonymous

    wow, casey I feel your pain, and sorry to hear about the new ms sooter. i wondered how all that worked out… Interesting you think you were led to believe that fault laid in his wifes lap, because at the church where he was pastor, many thought it was his daughters fault….His wife was ‘protecting’ his daughter from satan. At the funeral we were asked (by tom) to please forgive them(his wife and daughter)…
    it will forever be a mystery to us, but not to God. The outcome is not a mystery, and will affect many for the rest of their lives. I am glad that God is all about Grace, because we his children often fail miserably.

  • Casey

    I have searched for years to find the “real” story of this tragedy. I met Tom Sooter at a church I attended. He came in with great accolades and with mystery surrounding his move. We were led to believe that this tragedy lie completely in his wife’s lap. I never bought it. I was in the what I call extreme IFB group. The kind where suicide was an easier path to take than divorce. The kind where the pastor withdrew himself as your pastor because your ex divorced you and yet the pastor persisted that your place was with him. The kind that turned a blind eye to the abuse going on in a home and still expected you to “hold on”. Legalism is NOT adding anything to salvation…that’s the definition we were taught. Legalism is anything you do to earn God’s favor. It’s where laws and codes are kept to ensure God loves you and accepts you. Look it up!! Mr. Sooter married a dear lady I knew from a prior church. She was vibrant and loved the Lord and her first husband had died. She had prayed for years to marry a man in the ministry so when Mr. Sooter came along she felt her prayers had been answered. Go talk to the lady today and see how vibrant and happy she is. I know her daughters…I know she is NOT happy but is miserable. She suffers in silence. She has been cut off from some of her children because they live a lifestyle considered contrary to their world. Her children have always been her world and that’s what these people are known for doing…cutting people off from family. They call it separation. People are willingly blind and when faced with truth they will defend a lie simply because they can’t even fathom questioning anything outside the box. If I sound angry…I am…I knew in my heart of hearts that this man is NOT the man of God everyone thinks he is.

  • Melissa

    It is interesting that this conversation has gone on for so long. I went to EH for 6 years. I have been driving by the school lately on my way to work and thinking about Jenny. I know so many people who have wounds from this organization – wounds from not being accepted, for not being good enough. I too have vivid memories…as a 10 year old trying to hide when I saw someone from school at Wal-mart because I wasn’t wearing cullotes, being told I was an adulterous woman (when I was 14, by another 14 y.o.) because my knee cap was showing. Thankfully I know more about God’s grace now!

  • Jesus IS the only King

    I know bro tom sooter. He is a great man of God. let me remind you in gods eyes we are all guilty. I have herd the tragic story of what happend and I have talked with brother sooter. Im not trying to explain away what happend. Obvously there was some sin envolved (the wages of sin is death.) Men let me remide you that when you look upon a woman and lust after her in your heart you have already in gods eyes commited adultry. he whos ses he is without sin is a liar. If we juged our lives by gods law “most of us” would be lieing, stealing, adulturs, some of us murdurs. let me remind you. he who is WHITHOUT sin let HIM cast the first stone. I herd his message. Brother sooter is not a pefict man, But he gives a message from a pefict book. So insted of trying to sqay what an aufle humman being he is why dont you pray for him he realy is doing a great work!!! What are YOU doing to help people???

    • disqus_dgEXxvVBCL

      Seriously? Lets all hope you aren’t helping people how to spell.

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