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Heaven’s Rain: Forgiveness finally comes

Oklahoma tragedy remembered in new film

A knock at the door is nothing unusual for a pastor. People in need of everything from driving directions to daily food somehow find their way to a pastor’s home. When a knock came on the evening of Oct. 15, 1979 at the home of Oklahoma City, Putnam City’s pastor, Richard Douglass, nothing out of the ordinary was apparent. Two men simply needed to use the phone.  They were welcomed into the house and the Douglass family went about their business—until the sounds of a bullet being loaded into the chamber of a shotgun caused them to realize the unthinkable was about to happen.

Glenn Burton Ake (then 24) and Steven Keith Hatch (then 26) began an over four-hour reign of terror in the lives of Richard (43), his wife Marilyn (36) and their children Brooks (16) and Leslie (12). Richard, Marilyn and Brooks were forced to the floor, bound hand and foot as Leslie was led upstairs and repeatedly raped as her family listened helplessly below. Even at 12, Leslie knew what was about to happen. After the violent rampage was over, she asked almost in a whimper if she could go to the bathroom. They refused. There was little comfort for the little girl whose inner world would never be the same again.

She was finally tied up along with her family as all of them listened to a debate between the two men as to whether they would live or die. As Ake and Hatch ate the family’s dinner, the decision was made:  they would die. One by one, they were shot. The couple’s wedding rings were taken and a total of $43 in cash. As they sped away, Brooks and Leslie—both severely wounded—drove to the home of a nearby doctor and collapsed.

Of Memories and Meaning

Thirty years later, the story still stings. Oklahomans still recoil with horror as it stands as one of the most heinous crimes ever committed on state soil. The aftermath, however, few really remember—until now. A new motion picture, “Heaven’s Rain,” has been made chronicling the details of that night. And yet the film is more than a mere retelling of the story. Rather, it is the unveiling of the inner world of Brooks Douglass and his sister, Leslie, as they struggle to simply survive after experiencing intense emotional trauma.

Mike Vogel, who plays the role of Brooks Douglass, currently can be seen on a new CBS series, “Miami Medical”—produced by one of the Hollywood’s most famous producers, Jerry Bruckheimer. Vogel’s portrayal of Brooks Douglass peers behind the walls of his heart and reveals a young man still suffering from the memory of that night in his youth.

Frustrated with the legal system which trivialized the rights of victims, Douglass made the decision to go to law school at night. The Oklahoma City University law graduate soon made his way to the Oklahoma State Senate.  His first initiative as a newly minted senator was to champion a bill that would not simply memorialize his parents, but establish a law that would protect future crime victims who, in Douglass’ words that now ring famous on the floor of the Oklahoma senate chamber, “step over the bodies of the victims” in an effort to seek justice for their murderers.

Vogel captures the upheaval in Brooks Douglass’ life as he finds himself penniless, curled up in a sleeping bag by candlelight listening to the tape of a sermon by his father. The sound of the recorded words made the distance of death seem less. It had been years since he had seen his father, but something in that sermon still resonated with him. The message of forgiveness preached by his Dad was not a soft message of live and let live.  To the contrary, his father’s sermon sounded forth a note of praise for God’s judgment.

“God’s judgment is precious,” he said from the Putnam City pulpit. He then carefully explained the forgiveness that must wash over the lives of those who encounter the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Abandoned by his wife and largely alone as the days passed toward the time when he would watch one of the killers be executed, Vogel skillfully reveals aspects of Douglass’ life and emotional state once hidden from his own sister. It was from that sermon that “heaven’s rain” is first heard as the memorable phrase inside Brooks’ head. Over and over again, it raised its voice through the corridors of time to a mourning son never quite able to move past what happened when he was 16 years old.

Brooks Douglass portrays his father Richard as he preaches the now famous sermon of "Heaven's Rain". (PHOTO COURTESY BROOKS DOUGLASS)

Quality and Clarity

For a relatively low-budget film, it is remarkable in its quality and clarity. The pace of the movie is such that while flashbacks interact with more current scenes, there is never a hint of confusion as anyone who sits to watch the film will discover. The movie opened to rave reviews last week in Los Angeles, where Brooks Douglass now lives. The cast represents some of the movie industry’s best talent for a film that was largely produced through private funding and a smattering of extras and volunteers.

Douglass, (now 46), also steps in front of the camera to play the role of his father. With ease, he assumes the character of a man he greatly loved. Richard Douglass was a missionary to Brazil with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign Mission Board (as it was then named) and was, at bottom, a theologian. One of the scenes also showcases the character of a man who trusted in God’s providence and was seldom shaken by life’s difficult days.

Soon after the last ring of a bell on a small manual typewriter was heard, the missionary/pastor Richard Douglass finished his doctoral thesis. A celebration was in order as Richard and Marilyn briefly left their children for some time together. As they returned home, they found the walls covered with snowflakes which Brooks and Leslie had made. On closer examination, Richard discovered that the paper from which these snowflakes came to life was none other than the pages of a doctoral thesis. Before the days of computers, this meant that years of work was lost. As Brooks apologized, his father took him in his arms and simply asked that next time he needed some paper for a project to simply ask before he started to work.

Courage and Consequence

“Heaven’s Rain” penetrates beyond the surface scenes of a man fighting for the cause of victim’s rights to the depths of anguish between him and his sister; him and the memories of his past; and ultimately to an encounter with the essence of evil itself until, almost unexpectedly, forgiveness emerges through years of struggle as a healing balm to a troubled soul. Far more than simply a “decision” to forgive, forgiveness for Brooks Douglass is perhaps best personified as walking through the valley of the shadow of death and emerging on the other side more prepared to live as one redeemed, restored and forgiven through the power of Jesus Christ.

Immediately after some of the news media recently saw the film for the first time, Douglass himself stood to take questions. He cuts the figure of a man who has grown content in his work and calm in his demeanor.

“During the days when we were filming the scene of my father’s death, I realized I was experiencing the moments of my Dad’s final moments on this Earth,” he said.

For him, it seemed both riveting and revolting because that night has forever shaped his life. Those memories have set the direction of his work, and now he stands as a man able to share his story of “Heaven’s Rain” in a way that is both captivating and compelling.

Years have passed since Richard and Marilyn Douglass departed this life. The lives of their children have, in many ways, been a series of twists and turns leading up to this project where they courageously tell the story of their broken lives. The film’s real value is as a roadmap through suffering where trust and perseverance finally find their end in forgiveness as the key to peace in the midst of great sorrow. For Brooks Douglass and his sister, Leslie, heaven’s rain continues to fall.

For more information on the film:  www.heavensrainmovie.com.

The film opens in Oklahoma City and Kingfisher on Sept. 17.

Brooks Douglass and Mike Vogul discuss a scene in the movie "Heaven's Rain". (PHOTO COURTESY BROOKS DOUGLASS)

Author: Douglas Baker

View more articles by Douglas Baker.

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  • Shaster B. Giles

    I received the Baptist Messenger Newsletter this morning and read your story. My heart was deeply saddened by the loss of your loved ones; yet filled with the praise of knowing that Jesus is alive in your heart! This is truly a lesson on “Forgiveness” and “Restoration” and a testimony that is worth telling. I live in Dallas and I can not wait until the movie comes to our area. I am familiar with Feature Films for Families. If the movie will not be shown on the “Big Screen”, when will it be available for purchase through the company on video? I would love to show it to members of our Singles Ministry. Please keep me posted. Also, I am working on a newsletter for our Singles Ministry. Would it be okay, if I could copy some of the information about the story including a link to the trailer to encourage members to review it and prayerfully go out to see it if/when it comes to Dallas (or is released on video). Please advise me as soon as possible. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Lastly, there was another movie that came out earlier this year (a religious movie as well) and the producer asked for various churches to sponsor showing the movie at their churches. These were larger churches and they agreed to do it. Eventually, they did show the movie in select Cinemas in this area. Although the movie got very little publicity in terms of major T.V. commercials (it was really a great movie). I pray that this information is helpful and I wish you “God’s favor” in your endeavor.

    Shaster B, Giles
    214-727-1616
    shasterbgiles@ymail.com

  • Annie Wampler

    I cannot begin to express how deeply this story “Heaven’s Rain” touched me. My heart was broken for Brooks and Leslie Douglass as I read the details of this tragic event. However, their confirmation of Romans 8:28 needs to be heard and seen. I am so grateful this movie is being made available and many will see evidence of the forgiveness that Jesus offers. Without forgiveness there can be no peace.
    You see, four years ago I published a book titled Stoney Armadillo: Heaven Bound.
    Stoney Armadillo (street and prison name) was the offender in this true story. I witnessed my cousin’s execution on Texas Death Row in the year 2000 after God’s forgiveness and loving grace transformed his life in prison, and he was able to confess to his crime, stop his appeals process, and accept the punishment that was given him. Galatians 2:20 was his final words. “Heaven’s Rain” should be shown in every city nationwide. I would like to purchase the video/DVD when it becomes available.

    Annie Wampler
    Anniel39@sbcglobal.net

  • http://www.juanitastone.com Juanita Stone

    I was a member of Putnam City Bapt. church when Richard Douglass was pastor. I admired him greatly. I cried for days after hearing what happened. I can hardly wait for the film to come to Dallas.

    Brooks is quite a bit younger than me but I remember him and Leslie. I’m so proud that Brooks has made a difference for victims of crime.

    God bless you Brooks.

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  • Marybeth bay

    I’m speechless and can’t imagine anything as awful as you endured. I thought my childhood was less than others had experienced and that I had to choose between living the life given to me or something even more unrealistic. You have an amazing spiritual path and I cannot think of anything more wonderful than that other than your smile.

  • http://Karendoesmyhair.com Karen Pagliaro

    I just watch the interview with Brooks and Leslie Dougless. I am so deeply moved by their bravery to tell their story. It’s painful to hear: their parents and anyone who hears their story will be proud of them. Leslie, I am so sorry . You were only 12. In the movie you sing; what a beautiful voice; it brought tears to my eyes. Brooks you have been the “man and protecter” of your family since you were 16. Thank you for fighting and being the voice for all victims .

  • Sandy

    I watched your interview with Dateline and was truly blessed. Number one that the show would play such a powerful message (interview). Number two- the message itself. God bless all those who were involved in making this movie. God bless Brooks and Leslie for being so obedient to God and allowing Him to use their trauma to touch so many lives. I can’t wait to see the movie. I plan to purchase it as soon as I can. Forgiveness is truly the way one can live and live free indeed. Thank you for sharing such a powerful part of your life. You will truly be rewarded for this. Praise God!

  • Karen Walker

    I saw the story on DateLine….Was so shocked when the story came to Texas….I remember that day very well…One of the guys killed in Lumberton,TX was a very good friend…It was a sad day for all Dale’s family and friends…I never pass that house that I don’t think about that sad day…He was a really fun guy to be around…and had loads of friends….Two lives cut way to short…and will always be missed..

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  • http://TheFoundation Debbie Vanmarter

    So very sorry to hear of your loss. I am moved to hear that you could actually forgive these people

  • http://TheFoundation Debbie Vanmarter

    So sorry for your loss

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