Fred Winters, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, was shot and killed during the 8 a.m. service. The gunman, wearing dark clothing, approached the pulpit and exchanged words with the pastor and then the gunman fired four shots, first hitting the pastor’s Bible and then the pastor. According to Illinois State Police Director, Larry Trent, “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 reporters Sunday afternoon, “it was almost as if the pastor may have recognized him, but we’re not sure about that at all.”
The assailant’s .45 caliber pistol jammed right after he shot Fred Winters. He then pulled out a knife before being tackled by some of the parishioners. “When he was tackled by two of the members, we don’t know whether he fell on the knife, injuring himself at the time, or whether his injury was self-inflicted during the struggle,” Trent said. The suspect’s injuries are serious, while two of the parishioners who tackled the attacker sustained non-life-threatening injuries.
Laura Keller, spokeswoman for St. Louis University Hospital, said that three males, including the suspect, were brought to the hospital. She said that Winters was pronounced dead at the hospital for a single gunshot wound to the chest. A second man was in the operating room and the third was the suspect. The gunman’s condition was not released to the public. Trent said that one of the two wounded parishioners was treated and released. He also said that the actions of the two parishioners were heroic.
The First Baptist Church has about 1,000 members. Many of the members remained at the church for hours after the shooting as police were conducting interviews.
This is believed to be the nation’s first shooting in a church since July when 58-year-old Jim Adkisson opened fire at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Two people were killed and six wounded. Jim Adkisson told police that he targeted that church because of it’s liberal teachings. Adkisson plead guilty. He avoided the death penalty, but will face life in prison without parole.
The motive in this shooting is not yet known and church members did not recognize the gunman. Jeremy Kohler, a report for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said that there’s “a lot of sadness and disbelief out there.”