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Americas

Pastor shot dead before congregation

Latest update : 2009-03-09

The pastor of an Illinois church was shot dead on Sunday before shocked parishioners, who then tackled the gunman. The unidentified attacker also wielded a knife. Two parishoners and the attacker suffered knife injuries.

AFP - A suicidal gunman shot and killed a pastor in an Illinois church on Sunday morning before pulling out a knife and stabbing himself when the gun jammed, police said.
  
"Some parishioners tackled him and held him on the floor," Illinois state police spokesman Ralph Timmins said.
  
"Two subjects received knife injuries during the restriction of the subject and were treated at hospital."
  
Those injuries were not life-threatening, Timmins said.
  
Police have not yet determined what relationship, if any, the gunman had to the pastor. He was not an active member of the church and does not appear to have a criminal record or history of mental illness.
  
The gunman, who has not been identified, walked down the center aisle of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois at about 8:15 am (1315 GMT.)
  
He exchanged a few words with head pastor Fred Winters and then fired four shots with a .45 caliber handgun.
  
The first shot hit the pastor's bible and "exploded the top of the bible into what many in the congregation thought was confetti," said Larry Trent, director of the Illinois state police.
  
"In fact, some thought it was some type of skit or some type of program at the time, which is really not uncommon in these types of shootings."
  
Then a bullet hit the pastor in the chest.
  
Trent described the parishioners who tackled the 27-year-old gunman as "heroic" and said far more people could have been hurt if the gun had not jammed.
  
"The fact that the gun stovepiped or the shell caught in the ejector may have prevented something else. We don't know. Can't answer that," Trent said at a news conference.
  
Police had not yet questioned the gunman because he was undergoing surgery for a serious knife wound to his neck.
  
"We have no idea what this guy's motive was. We don't know him," said Mark Jones, a worship minister at the church.
  
Jones praised the parishioners who risked their own lives to subdue the shooter and said the congregation would find comfort in their faith to move forward from what he sees as a one-time, random act of violence.
  
"We'll be surrounded by questions that we may never know the answers to buy we trust who God is," Jones told reporters.
  
"People can't stop living their lives. They can't be paralyzed by fear."
  
About 150 people were attending the service at the time of the shooting.
  
"I'm in shock," church member Lindsay Osborne, 18, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch as she stood in bare feet with mascara running down her face outside the hospital where her pastor had died.
  
"We were going to stand in the parking lot and pray for him, but they came out and told us they lost him in there," said her mother Carol Covinsky, 52.
  
Winters, 45, is survived by his wife Cindy and two daughters.
  
He had been pastor of the church for 22 years, during which its average attendance grew from 32 to 1,200 people, according to the church's website.

Date created : 2009-03-08

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