LAKELAND, Fla. – Pastor Ron Pennekamp not only considered John Shannon a personal friend, he watched his two daughters grow up in the church, presided over the wedding of one, and mentored their close family friend who was also a parishioner at the same church.
Shannon, his daughters, son-in-law, and family friend were all killed when the Cessna 340 twin-engine plane Shannon was piloting crashed Christmas Eve morning shortly after taking off from the Bartow Municipal Airport.
"You get news like that and the first thing you think is 'it cant be true, you must be talking about someone else,'" Pennekamp said as he sat in an empty sanctuary on Christmas morning filled with grief.
Pennekamp is the senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran in Lakeland where Shannon, his two daughters, and close friend Krista Clayton attended.
"He was more than just a parishioner, he was a personal friend," Pennekamp said of their 13 year friendship, admiring Shannon's commitment to not only those he knew in the church but outside of it in the community.
"He would talk to people, find out what was going on, and he always influence and that’s really the mark of a good leader.
Olivia Shannon, 24, a student at Southeastern University and Victoria Shannon Worthington, 26, a school teacher in Baltimore, grew up in the church, Pennekamp said.
"I’ve never seen a father more committed to his kids," he said. "The kids took priority."
Just a few months ago, Shannon asked Pennekamp to preside for his daughter Victoria's wedding. She married Peter Worthington, a law student, in Baltimore.
This would've been their first Christmas together as a married couple.
"It was a fantastic wedding, a lot of joy," Pennekamp said. "That’s probably the hardest thing about thinking about this is just the dreams that were there for Pete and for Tori and all those things are going unrealized."
While he adored his family, Pennekamp was just as familiar with Shannon's love of flying, having been a passenger of his on several occasions.
"He’s a master pilot and I’ve flown through fog with John, he’s instrument-rated," Pennekamp said, recalling one particular instance when they two returned from having dinner in Valrico.
"He turned on his instruments, turned on his landing lights and we came out of the fog just above the ground and we were right on target. So I don’t think its fog, honestly I really don’t. I don’t think he would’ve taken off if he thought he would put his family in jeopardy.”
Close family friend Krista Clayton was also on board. Pennekamp says he's been in regular contact with Clayton's finance and two young daughters, even opting to spend Christmas Eve with them rather than attending mass.
They, like so many others now, are working through shock to find peace.
"We’re going to mourn but we’re not going to mourn without hope," Pennekamp said.
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