Authorities Plan to Charge Illinois Church Suspect

 

 
 
 

Jim Suhr | | Sunday, March 8, 2009


MARYVILLE, Ill. (AP) -- A man suspected of killing a pastor with a barrage of shots that ripped through the church leader's Bible was in serious condition Monday from wounds he sustained in the confrontation, and authorities expect to charge him soon.

The gunman, identified by authorities as a 27-year-old from Troy, strode toward the Rev. Fred Winters shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday, exchanged words with him, then fired a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol until it jammed.

Churchgoers then wrestled him to the ground as he brandished a knife, said Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent. Winters later died of his injuries.

The gunman underwent surgery at St. Louis University Hospital and remained in serious condition Monday morning, according to hospital spokeswoman Laura Keller.

State Police Lt. Scott Compton told The Associated Press early Monday that authorities plan to charge the suspect sometime Monday or possibly Tuesday.

A 39-year-old parishioner, Terry Bullard, also remained in serious condition Monday morning. The third victim, Keith Melton, was treated and released.

None of the about 150 worshippers attending the early morning service seemed to recognize the gunman, and investigators did not know details of Winters' conversation with him, Trent said, but they planned to review an audio recording of the service.

Authorities didn't know whether Winters, a married father of two, knew the gunman. Police would not release the gunman's name pending possible charges.

Winters deflected the first of the gunman's four rounds with a Bible, sending a confetti-like spray of paper into the air in a horrifying scene worshippers initially thought was a skit, police said.

"We just sat there waiting for what comes next not realizing that he had wounded the pastor," said Linda Cunningham, whose husband is a minister of adult education at the 1,200-member church.

Winters had stood on an elevated platform to deliver his sermon about finding happiness in the workplace - titled "Come On, Get Happy" - and managed to run halfway down the sanctuary's side aisle before collapsing after the attack, Cunningham said.

Two worshippers tackled the gunman as he pulled the knife, and all three were stabbed - the gunman suffered "a pretty serious wound to the neck" while one worshipper had lower back wounds, Trent said.

Churchgoers knocked the gunman between sets of pews, then held him down until police arrived, said member Don Bohley, who was just outside the sanctuary when the shooting began.

Trent said investigators found no immediate evidence of a criminal background for the suspect. He said police were investigating whether a red Jeep parked outside the church belonged to the man.

The Jeep, which remained at the church Sunday night under State Police watch, was registered to the address of a 27-year-old man in an upscale neighborhood in Troy. No one answered the door at the residence Sunday.

A man of the same age whose mother's name also is registered at the Troy address was featured in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article detailing his battle with Lyme disease. In the article, the man's mother said the disease left lesions on his brain and that doctors had diagnosed him as mentally ill before discovering the disease.

In the August 2008 article, the mother said her son was taking several medications and had difficulty speaking after contracting the tick-borne illness.

Police would not confirm that the man in the article was the church shooting suspect. The Associated Press is not naming the man because no one has been charged in the shooting.

The Rev. Mark Jones, another First Baptist pastor, later urged a Sunday evening prayer service attended by hundreds at nearby Metro Community Church in Edwardsville to be resilient after "this attack from the forces of hell."

The standing-room-only crowd cried, cradled Bibles and stretched their hands skyward as they packed into the church, many watching the service on large television monitors in overflow areas.

"We need to reassure our hearts and reinforce our minds that Pastor Fred is in that place that we call heaven," Jones said. "Church, evil does exist. Today, we saw the visible results of evil and its influence."

First Baptist had an average attendance of 32 people when Winters became senior pastor in 1987; it now has about 1,200 members and three Sunday services, according to the church's Web site.

Winters was former president of the Illinois Baptist State Association and an adjunct professor for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, according to the site.

He hosted Pizza with the Pastor dinners in his home, and the church organized bowling parties for fathers and daughters, karate classes and a golf league.

The church sits along a busy two-lane highway on the east side of Maryville, a fast-growing village of more than 7,000 about 20 miles northeast of St. Louis. A farm sits directly across from the church, but subdivisions of newer homes can been easily seen from every side.

"Things like this just don't happen in Maryville," Mayor Larry Gulledge said. "We've lost one the pillars of our community, one of our leaders."

On the Net:

First Baptist: http://www.fbmaryville.org/

Associated Press writers Betsy Taylor and Jim Salter in Maryville and Karen Hawkins, Rupa Shenoy and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.




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