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Second church member dies from 2003 coffee poisoning

(RNS) Six years after a disgruntled farmer slipped arsenic into the coffee at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine, the poisoning has claimed its second victim. Frances Ruggles’ family told the Associated Press she died Saturday (April 4) in her home. A memorial service was held Wednesday (April 8) at the church founded […]

(RNS) Six years after a disgruntled farmer slipped arsenic into the coffee at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church in New Sweden, Maine, the poisoning has claimed its second victim.

Frances Ruggles’ family told the Associated Press she died Saturday (April 4) in her home. A memorial service was held Wednesday (April 8) at the church founded by Swedish immigrants.

Ruggles, 67, was one of 16 parishioners who were poisoned on April 27, 2003, according to the AP. One person died from the poison, and many are still dealing with health problems related to the arsenic that can slowly destroy organs over time.

“They are still being treated medically,” the Rev. Margaret Payne, the New England bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, told the ELCA News Service.

The pain is apparently still fresh with many. Last year, barely anyone attended the church service closest to the fifth anniversary of the poisonings, the Rev. James Morgan told the ECLA News Service.

“It was understandable. People are still doing grief work,” Morgan said. “Some of us had predicted that dealing with the trauma would be a five-year process. Most people have come to grips with the tragedy and offered forgiveness as they were able to.”

Days after the poisoning, a church member killed himself and confessed to the crime in a suicide note, according to the ECLA News Service. It took three years for law enforcement to rule that he had acted alone, which Payne said added to parishioners’ anxiety.

“Living with that uncertainty added to the pain and grief of this community,” Payne said, adding that the healing process is not yet complete for the tiny church.

“Even though they got over the immediate trauma, these situations leave terrible scars and wounds,” she said. “They need to heal from the inside out.”