Pastor shot down during sermon

A pastor shot and killed during his Sunday sermon 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 that congregants initially thought was a skit, police said.

The gunman strode down the aisle of the sprawling First Baptist Church shortly after 8am and briefly spoke with The Rev. Fred Winters, then pulled out a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and began firing until it jammed, Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent said. Churchgoers wrestled the gunman to the ground as he waved a knife, slashing himself and two other people, Trent said.

None of the about 150 congregants seemed to recognize the gunman and investigators do not know details of Winters' conversation with him, but they planned to review an audio recording of the service, Trent said. The service was not videotaped.

"We thought it was part of a drama skit ... when he shot, what you saw was confetti," said congregant Linda Cunningham, whose husband is a minister of adult education at the church. "We just sat there waiting for what comes next, not realizing that he had wounded the pastor."

Winters had stood on an elevated platform to deliver his sermon about finding happiness in the workplace and managed to run halfway down the sanctuary's side aisle before collapsing, Cunningham said.

Two congregants tackled the gunman as he pulled the 4-inch (10-centimeter) knife, and all three were stabbed, police said. The gunman suffered "a pretty serious wound to the neck" while one congregant had lower back wounds, Trent said.

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

Authorities didn't know whether Winters, a married father of two who had led the church for nearly 22 years, knew the gunman. Police described the gunman as a 27-year-old from nearby Troy but would not release his name pending possible charges.

Trent said investigators had not immediately uncovered evidence of a criminal background or mental illness.

"We don't know the relationship (between the gunman and pastor), why he's here or what the circumstances came about that caused him in the first place to be here," said Illinois State Police Master Trooper Ralph Timmins.

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 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 woman from a neighboring home cried while hugging other neighbors in the cul-de-sac, but all declined comment.

The Rev. Mark Jones, another pastor at First Baptist, said he briefly saw the gunman but not the shooting, though he heard a sound like miniature firecrackers.

"We have no idea what this guy's motives were," Jones said outside the church.

He later urged a Sunday evening prayer service attended by hundreds at nearby Metro Community Church in Edwardsville to find resilience and spirituality 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."

The gunman and 39-year-old congregant Terry Bullard underwent surgery at St. Louis University Hospital and were in serious condition, spokeswoman Laura Keller said. The other victim, Keith Melton, was treated and released from Gateway Regional Medical Center.

"I would call it heroic," Trent said. "While many understandably were stuck to their seats, they took to action."

First Baptist had an average attendance of 32 people when Winters became senior pastor in 1987; it now has about 1,200 members, according to the church's Web site. Winters also was former president of the Illinois Baptist State Association and an adjunct professor for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, according to the site.

The red brick 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 (32 kilometers) northeast of St. Louis. A farm sits directly across from the church, but subdivisions of newer homes can be seen from every side.

At Winters' two-story brick home in Edwardsville, several friends gathered to pay their respects but declined comment. Family members also declined comment.

Last month, a man shot and killed himself in front of a cross inside televangelist Robert H. Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. In November, a gunman killed his estranged wife in a New Jersey church vestibule as Sunday services let out.

In July, two people were killed and six wounded in a shooting rampage at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. An out-of-work truck driver who police say targeted the church for its liberal leanings pleaded guilty to the shootings and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral