March 9, 2009
Church members in the 8:15 service at a Maryville, Ill., church didn’t realize the man walking up the aisle wasn’t part of the program until too late.
A 27-year-old man walked up the aisle at First Baptist Church, exchanged a few words with Pastor Fred Winters, then pulled a gun on the pastor. Church members saw the pastor’s Bible explode “like confetti,” but realized it was not skit when the man fired three more shots. Winters was fatally wounded.
Two members tackled the gunman, who had drawn a knife. All three were injured in the struggle, but the church members managed to hold the assailant down until police officials arrived.
The Associated Press reports that Terry Bullard, 39, remains in serious condition Monday morning for stab wounds sustained during the confrontation. The second church member, Keith Melton, was treated and released.
Winters was taken to the hospital, but died of his injuries.
The suspect, identified Monday as Terry Sedlacek, remains in serious condition, police said, and underwent surgery for neck wounds. According to Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent, police are not sure if the pastor knew the suspect. They are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting.
"The only thing we know is that the suspect said something to the pastor and the pastor said something back to him -- we don't know what that was," Trent told CNN reporters Sunday afternoon. "It was almost as if the pastor may have recognized him, but we're not sure about that at all."
Jeff Ross, a lay minister at First Baptist, said Winters grew the church from a few dozen members meeting in a rural building 21 years ago to a congregation of 1,500 members today, the USA Today reported.
Members remember Winters for his a personal approach, MSNBC reported. At church, he could be found greeting visitors and talking with members. At home, he often hosted events such as the “Pizza with the Pastor” dinner.
Winters “was on fire for the Lord. He only worried about people who were lost,” Ross said, as reported in USA Today.
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had been working with Winters on plans for an summer concert tour for St. Louis youth.
"It was my joy to meet Pastor Winters recently while I was in St. Louis," Graham said in a statement. "I was looking forward to working with him this summer. His presence will be sorely missed."
Graham encouraged prayers for Winters’ widow, Cyndie Lee, and their two children.
“At a time when the world is experiencing so much suffering, an event like this underscores our need to place our trust and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."
A statement on First Baptist’s Web site also expressed faith that Winters’ death would encourage people to look to Christ.
“In this day, where uncertainty seems to abound creating an environment in which people are vulnerable in doing things they might not do otherwise, one thing is certain, we, as human beings need a foundation upon which we can live our lives,” the statement said. “We at First Baptist Maryville, along with other Christian believers, share this conviction: that foundation is God’s Word. In the pages of the Book we call the Bible, we find the pathway for peace, hope, and a quality of living life despite what circumstances we find ourselves in.”
Ross, who found out about the shooting as he was en route to the church, preached a sermon that evening on the tragedy, USA Today reported.
"I told them that there's a clock ticking for everyone, ticktock, ticktock. His time ran out. It runs out for all of us. That's why we need a personal relationship with Christ, so we can spend an eternity with Christ. That's where Pastor Fred is.”
CNN notes that the last church shooting occurred in July 2008, when a man killed two and injured six at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.