- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009


MARYVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A suburban St. Louis 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 parishioners at first thought was a skit, police said.

The gunman strode down the aisle of the sprawling brick First Baptist Church shortly after 8 a.m., exchanged words with the Rev. Fred Winters and began firing a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol until the gun jammed and parishioners wrestled him to the ground, said Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent.

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“We thought it was part of a drama skit…when he shot, what you saw was confetti,” said parishioner 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.”

Two parishioners then tackled the gunman as he brandished a four-inch knife, and all three suffered stab wounds, Trent said. The gunman and one victim were flown to a St. Louis hospital, where both underwent surgery. The other victim was treated for slash wounds and released.

“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.”

Authorities didn’t know whether Winters, a married father of two who had led the church for nearly 22 years, and the gunman knew each other, though no one at the church seemed to recognize him. Police described the gunman as a 27-year-old from nearby Troy but would not release his name pending possible charges.

“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.

The Rev. Mark Jones, another First Baptist pastor, said he briefly saw the gunman before a weapon was pulled. Jones then walked to an adjacent room and did not see the shooting, though he heard a sound like miniature fire crackers.

“We have no idea what this guy’s motives were,” Jones said outside the church. “We don’t know if we’ll ever know that.”

Trent did not have details of Winters’ conversation with the gunman.

“Right now all we know is that the suspect said something to the pastor and the pastor said something back,” he said.

Winters was pronounced dead on arrival at Anderson Hospital in Maryville, said hospital spokeswoman Natalie Head.

The gunman and one stabbing victim, 39-year-old Terry Bullard, were treated at St. Louis University Hospital, said spokeswoman Laura Keller. Bullard underwent surgery for stab wounds and was in serious condition Sunday, she said.

Keller said the gunman underwent surgery Sunday afternoon but could not provide his name or detail his condition or injuries.

The other victim, Keith Melton, was treated and released from Gateway Regional Medical Center, said spokeswoman Kate Allaria. A man who answered the phone at a listing for Keith Melton in Troy identified himself as Melton’s stepson and said Melton had been stabbed but was going to be fine.

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.

“Our great God is not surprised by this, or anything,” Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said in a statement. “That He allows evil and free will to have their way in tragedies like this is a mystery in many ways.”

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 church, but subdivisions of newer homes can been easily seen from every side.

Parishioner Sharla Dryden, 62, pulled into the church parking lot for a 9:30 a.m. service Sunday to see “just a lot of chaos, lot of police, fire, and people just devastated.”

“They just said there had been a shooting,” Dryden said. “I would have been devastated if anyone had been shot, but to hear it was the pastor was terrible. You just never expect this to happen at a church.”

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

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