An Illinois pastor of a 2,000 member church - Dr. Fred Winters - was shot and killed Sunday morning while preaching. Two Church members injured trying to protect the gunman from himself, after the unknown gunman with apparent mental illness, opened fire during Sunday services at the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill.
The gunman walked down the church aisle while Pastor Winters was preaching his morning message, and briefly spoke to the pastor before shooting him during the 8:15 a.m service.
Rev. Fred Winters asked the man, "May I help you?" and was willing to stop preaching and pray with him.
The man responded with murder!
Pastor Winters was holding his Bible he was reading from, which shielded him from the first round of bullets, a member told the local FOX News.
The gunman's .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol jammed after the fourth shot was fired.
The insane man then started stabbing himself with a four-inch knife, Ralph Timmins of the Illinois State Police told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Two "Christ-like" Church members attempted to restrain him from stabbing himself further, and the gunman began slashing them.
The newspaper reported late Sunday a source close to the case confirmed the gunman as Terry Joe Sedlacek, 27, who developed mental illness after Lyme disease attacked his brain.
Pastor Fred Winters was shot three times, and was pronounced dead at Anderson Hospital.
The gunman and one stabbing victim, 39-year-old Terry Bullard, underwent surgery at St. Louis University Hospital, spokeswoman Laura Keller said. Bullard was in serious condition, she said.
The other victim, Keith Melton, was treated and released from Gateway Regional Medical Center, spokeswoman Kate Allaria said.
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.
The Rev. Mark Jones, another pastor at First Baptist, said he did not recognize the gunman, who Jones saw briefly before he pulled his weapon. Jones then went into 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."
Police said there were about 150 people in the church at the time of the shooting.
Linda Cunningham was sitting near the back of the church when the gunman walked up the aisle. She told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch she figured the man was confused about what time the service started because of daylight savings time.
Some parishioners said the gunman used church bulletins to conceal his weapon.
"All you could see was confetti" Cunningham told the Post-Dispatch.
The church has an average attendance of more than 1,200 and was officially organized on March 4, 1945, according to their Web site.
Read more on this story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Read more on this story from MyFOX2Now.com in St. Louis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
On Fox News the cover story was about Fred Winters, a pastor in Illinois who was gunned down in the pulpit while preaching in morning service.
I checked out the church website, and from everything I’ve seen, this pastor was a godly man who was utterly committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the authority of God’s Word. He had a great love for the Lord and for people.
Supposedly, as the gunman walked down the aisle toward the pastor in the middle of the service, the pastor said to him, “Can I help you?” – something that another pastor on staff did not find surprising at all. Here’s the video clip this morning from Fox News:
Yesterday morning started out like just any other Sunday morning for this preacher. He simply got up behind his pulpit and started preaching God’s Word to his flock. As a pastor, I am reminded of how important it is for me to “to preach … as a dying man to dying men” (Richard Baxter).
And certainly all of us should pray, as Moses did,Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. - Psalm 90:12
What are the practical implications of this verse for us as believers?
Perhaps they are best stated in the following two resolutions of Jonathan Edwards:
Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
By all accounts, Pastor Fred Winters finished well. God help us to do the same.
FOLLOWING IS A LITTLE OF HOW CHRISTIANITY TODAY RECORDED IT:
On March 8, 2009, a gunman entered the sanctuary at First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, with a .45 caliber Glock pistol. He walked up the center aisle and stopped not far from the stage.
Pastor Fred Winters was in the early moments of his sermon. He looked at the man standing in the aisle and asked, "May I help you?"
At that moment the stranger removed a church bulletin covering the gun and began shooting. The first shot hit Pastor Winters's Bible, shredding it into what people perceived as confetti. The reality of what was happening didn't register with anyone yet, in fact some later commented they thought it was a drama sketch.
Pastor Winters yelled, "It's real, this is real!" and moved toward the side of the stage.
The second and third shots each missed Pastor Winters. He jumped off the stage toward the gunman and grabbed the gun. It was there the fourth and final shot hit the pastor in the chest, piercing his heart and killing him.
The gun jammed during the struggle, which allowed two members of the congregation to pull the gunman away from Pastor Winters and to the floor, where they held him until police arrived. In the process the gunman pulled a knife and injured both men before stabbing himself in the neck.
In a matter of minutes the event was over.
Police and first responders were on the scene quickly and did all they could to save Pastor Winters's life, but it was too late. He was gone. The two members of the congregation were treated for their injuries and released.
The shooter was flown to a trauma center, treated for his injuries, and is now in jail awaiting the conclusion of the trial.
To this day, there is no understanding of why the shooter picked this church on this day. He had no prior connection with First Baptist.
No motive has been discovered. It was a random act of violence.
First Baptist Maryville is a church of 1,200 - 1,500 attendance, located 20 miles northeast of St. Louis, Missouri. The church is on a busy rural highway and surrounded by farmland. It's not the kind of place one associates with a deadly shooting.
March 8, 2009, was the day Daylight Savings Time went into effect, so fewer people than normal were at the early service, but in every other way, it was a normal Sunday.
A visitor 20 months later reports that First Baptist functions in a new normal.
The church is still without a senior pastor, and the congregation is still healing.
Three of those deeply affected by the shooting agreed to be interviewed about the congregation's experience: Mark Jones, minister of worship; Cindy Winters - the Widow, wife of Pastor Fred Winters; and Jack Dawson, minister of pastoral care.
What do you remember about that Sunday?
Mark Jones: I had just finished leading worship and was in the choir room. I heard, what sounded like firecrackers, bang—… bang—… bang, and then a pause, then another bang.
A member of the worship team, who had been in the sanctuary, ran in and said, "Shots have been fired. Pastor Fred has been hit."
When I walked into the room, I saw the entire spectrum of possible responses to this trauma. Already there were people at the altar praying. Others were crying.
Others were stunned, frozen in their seats. Others were gathered around Pastor Fred trying to help.
I approached Pastor Fred, and I didn't recognize him. I was standing at his feet, and for whatever reason, it did not look like him. I can't explain it to you.
All I could do was grab his ankle and pray. I didn't know then that the fourth shot killed him immediately. I was grateful he did not suffer.
How has First Baptist processed this trauma?
Jones: I think the hardest blow was why would God allow God's man, in God's house, who was teaching God's Word, to be killed?
It is stunning theologically.
For whatever reason, God allowed these events to happen.
The challenge for leadership is how to have sensitivity to those who are still grieving and yet try to lovingly hold onto the reins of those who want to move on at 100 mph.
How do we unite the family and successfully move forward together?
How much time passed before you met in the sanctuary again for services?
Jones: We met here the very next week.
What did you do?
Jack Dawson: We invited Al Meredith, senior pastor of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, to speak the next Sunday morning and then again that night. His church experienced a shooting in 1999 where seven people were killed.
Jones: In the morning he preached to our church on hope, and that night he spoke on perseverance from Galatians 6:9.
Dawson: He was with us for the entire first weekend. He spent time with the staff and their spouses. He encouraged us to express our feelings, even the hard ones. He did the same thing with the deacons of the church.
What else helped with the healing process?
Dawson: For several weeks after the shooting, members of the Billy Graham Emergency Response Team and teams from the state were here to provide counseling to the staff, the church, and the community.
We encouraged people to talk.
We wanted people to verbalize what they were feeling. ,We didn't want people to internalize their trauma.
Cindy, how are you and your girls doing today?
Widow Cindy Winters: The second year is definitely harder than the first, because you aren't in shock. The raw emotions hit you full force.
There are times when something will come up, and it surprises me how much it hurts. And other times something will come up, and I will think, We did that amazingly well. It is such a roller-coaster ride.
What helped you in your healing journey?
Widow Winters: I purposed early on to just be honest. I decided I wasn't going to pretend.
I believe God is good all the time, but that doesn't mean I feel good all the time.
I wasn't going to walk around pretending I had it all together. I have tried, in my walk with God, to be honest with him.
People asked me how they could help, and in the early days, I didn't have a good answer.
However, people in the church wrote me letters about what Fred meant to them or they sent pictures of them with Fred. Those things were huge.
Now when people ask, I say, "I just need to know how much Fred meant to you."
What are you doing now to cope with this loss?
Widow Winters: Today I work harder at celebrating life. When I see a beautiful sunset or I hear children laughing, I celebrate the moment, because God is in those moments and we too often miss them.
I don't want to miss them.
I've also started with a few friends an organization called Grace—Hope Ministries. Through Grace—Hope, I have opportunities to share my faith and to help other people who are hurting, in the hope that we can see good come out of evil.
Has your understanding of God changed?
Dawson: I have always known that God could handle my hurt and my anger. This situation proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is big enough to handle my anger and my pain.
He knows we are hurting, he knew before the shooting we would be angry, but he also knew there were lessons for us to learn. He has sustained us, and he is sustaining me. He has used this to drive me TO Him and not AWAY from him.
Widow Winters: Tragedy really messes with our concept of faith. I found myself asking, Is God really good and can he be trusted right now?
Our first tendency is to doubt God's faithfulness and his goodness and love.
This is true in all forms of loss.
Everything in us wants to pull away from God, but it is in Jesus where real healing takes place.
He is actively loving us and redeeming even the worst of circumstances in our lives.
How has this trauma changed you?
Widow Winters: Being in the room with a dead person, the person you love, that changes you. Walking into that room and realizing that just moments ago that person was alive and now he's gone.
That changes you in a lot of ways, but it truly changed my perspective on life.
We thought we would grow old together. We dreamed about what we would do in later years.
We were baseball fans and we talked about taking a season off and following the Cardinals around the country. All of a sudden it's gone.
What has been your role in the healing of First Baptist?
Widow Winters: At the funeral, I knew God had given me some things to say. We, my girls and I, were in a deep pit. We were not doing well, but God gave me some very clear things to say to our church and those gathered for the service.
God met us in our darkest place, and I wanted people to know.
I don't have an official role in the church anymore, and I believe my role is to just keep living out my faith in an honest and transparent way.
I know people are watching me; I want people to see a real person, with real pain just like everybody else, but trying to encounter a real God.
God met us in our darkest place, and I wanted people to know.
Jones: I have tried to keep us focused on the power of prayer. In those weeks after the shooting, prayers from all over the world were being lifted up on our behalf. We received notes and cards. A bubble of prayer covered us, and I believe as a result, we experienced a spirit of unity in this church like we have never seen before.
In fact, a few months after Pastor Fred's death, someone threw two cement blocks through our front windows, and a week or two after that some equipment was stolen.
Things can be replaced and windows can be fixed, but I believe God was using those situations to remind us that we were not out of the woods yet, and we needed to continue praying.
Is it hard to remain at a church that was the scene of such trauma?
Widow Winters: Some days it's real hard. I trust God knew that was going to happen, but it still hurts.
When I walk into that sanctuary, I don't sit there and think about what happened here. God has given me a lot of grace.
I think he's done that because he wants me at this church.
Jones: In the months following, especially for those folks who witnessed the shooting firsthand, I think it was very hard to come back into this place of sanctuary which became a place of violence.
As the worship leader, I didn't use many praise songs in the months after the shooting.
Our lyrics focused on healing, Gods faithfulness, God's sovereignty, and the idea that God is still in control. I wanted people to know God was not caught off guard by these events.
How has First Baptist changed? Or has it?
Dawson: The vision is the same. The vision for our community is very strong. Pastor Fred built this church for growth; he wanted this church to be loving and compassionate to everyone. That is the same today.
In fact I would say we are even more an accepting place today than we were before March 8.
Part of the normal cycle of dealing with trauma involves a sort of "pushing away" or distancing from others involved. Have you experienced that part of the process?
Widow Winters: Yes and no. At first, there was not a sense of separation. But at about the six-month point, something changed.
I thought it was just me, but then my kids noticed it. It was an emotional distancing. I think this is normal, but we felt it profoundly.
Don't let the thoughts, the fears, or the grief take root. talk it out.
The good thing was I knew everybody's heart was in the right place.
People weren't as emotionally present as they had been. I think they needed to push us away so they could process their own grief.
Fortunately, God put some people in my life who had gone through some tragedy and loss that were not a part of my loss, and they sustained me during that time.
How has this event impacted church attendance?
Jones: We had heard that very few organizations recover from something like this without losing people. In fact we were told many organizations that experience this kind of trauma don't ever recover fully.
That just hasn't been the case here.
Dawson: We lost a few people, primarily from the group that witnessed the shooting firsthand. I think some struggled with their own personal response in those moments, and I think others just struggle with the trauma of what they saw.
However, we also had some people, who over the years had left the church, return.
Widow Winters: There is a natural tendency to be fearful about talking to people who have been through trauma. For me, it was so encouraging to receive a card or have someone tell me they were praying for me.
Those things are helpful. Even today, when someone says, "I still miss Fred," that is huge to me. Those moments are God ordained.
Every time someone has come up to me, emotionally present and honest, it has been helpful. Don't worry about saying the wrong thing or trying to make me feel better.
There is no such thing as making me feel better, and there is no way you could make it worse, so just be present and honest.
When people don't open up to me, then I don't get the chance to open up to them, and it perpetuates the separation, the distance.
Ever face anger?
Widow Winters: Yes, I've had that [Laughter].
I still do from time to time; it's better today than it was. I was not emotionally prepared to see the suffering in my children's eyes.
I remember screaming at God, "When are YOU going to show up, when are you going to do something?"
I never really questioned God about why he allowed this to happen to me, but I really questioned God about when he was going to pull my two girls out of this pain.
I didn't think they could see God in the midst of their pain, and that broke my heart. I know I can't always see how God is working, but as a mom it was agonizing.
How did the community outside the church respond to you?
Widow Winters: The thing I remember the most was the very next Sunday after the shooting. The chief of police organized police and fire personnel from all over to be here that day.
When people arrived for church they walked through a line of police and first responders.
It was so reassuring and comforting to see all of those men and women lined up waiting for us to arrive.
What has helped with the healing?
Widow Winters: People sent cards, crosses, handmade blankets. Knowing they were praying for us made all the difference in the world.
I remember one of the first times we left the house after the shooting, we had to go to the funeral home to make some arrangements, and the banks in town had signs that said, "We are praying for the Winters family."
Those things touched me.
Interview Courtesy Christianity Today. Christipedia thanks them and urges readers to buy their magazine and support their ministry. They are a blessing to us all.
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