A 27-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of a pastor at a church in Maryville, Illinois, authorities said Monday.
Terry J. Sedlacek was charged with fatally shooting Fred Winters, the pastor of First Baptist Church. Winters was shot during Sunday morning services. Prosecutors also charged Sedlacek with two counts of aggravated battery in the alleged stabbings of parishioners Terry Bullard and Keith Melton. Their injuries are not life-threatening, said Illinois state police spokesman Ralph Timmins. The gunman was also seriously wounded, Timmins said. Last August, the St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch profiled Sedlacek, whose mother, Ruth Abernathy, told the newspaper he began acting strangely during his junior year in high school. He seemed confused and stopped participating in activities that had interested him. Abernathy said her son was diagnosed with mental illness, something she blamed on Lyme disease. A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that mental illness associated with Lyme disease is highly unusual, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America said Lyme disease “is not known to cause violent behavior.” But a study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Psychiatry and carried out in the Czech Republic found that 36 percent of 900 psychiatric subjects had antibodies to the bacterium linked to Lyme disease, versus 18 percent of 900 healthy control subjects. The church, meanwhile, urged its members to remember Winter’s family, the wounded parishioners and the assailant and his family. “Please pray for Dr. Winters’ family, our two brave members who were injured when they stopped the assailant, for the assailant himself and his family, and for our church members as they deal with this tragic loss,” the church said in a statement on its Web site. Winters and the gunman apparently exchanged words before he fired four shots Sunday morning, hitting the pastor’s Bible and then the pastor, said Illinois state police director Larry Trent.
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“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 gunman’s .45-caliber pistol jammed after he shot Winters, Trent said. The man then pulled out a knife before being tackled by some of the approximately 150 worshippers attending the service in southern Illinois, near St. Louis, Missouri. Watch aftermath of shooting in church » Earlier reports from authorities said the man may have turned the knife on himself, but Trent said that was not confirmed. “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. Two of those who went after the attacker suffered non-life-threatening injuries, while the suspect’s injuries are “very serious,” Illinois state police spokesman Ralph Timmins said. Watch police describe “heroic action” of parishioners » Witness Claudia Bohley told CNN affiliate KSDK she was in the church’s foyer waiting for the service to begin when she heard “pop, pop, pop. … We just couldn’t imagine what had happened.” She said she ran into the sanctuary and saw what looked like paper scattered on the pulpit. She said she was later told that a bullet hit Winters’ Bible. “It was like confetti. It went everywhere,” she said. “People were down on their knees and on the floor, screaming and praying.” She described Winters — who is pictured on the church’s Web site along with his wife and two children — as “such a pleasant pastor.” Trent said police were still trying to determine a motive in the shooting, and that church members did not recognize the gunman. St. Louis University Hospital spokeswoman Laura Keller told CNN three males, including the suspect, were brought to the hospital. One was dead on arrival, she said. She said the second was in an operating room and the third was the suspect, whose condition was not immediately available. Trent said one of two wounded parishioners was treated and released. Trent called the actions of the two wounded parishioners “heroic,” saying they took quick action when others “were understandably stuck to their seats.” First Baptist Church has about 1,000 members, KSDK reported. The church holds four Sunday services. The Illinois shooting is believed to be the nation’s first in a church since July, when a 58-year-old man opened fire in a Knoxville, Tennessee, church during a children’s play. Two people were killed and six wounded in that shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
In the Tennessee case, Jim Adkisson told police he targeted the church because of its “liberal teachings,” according to court papers. Adkisson pleaded guilty last month in a deal that allowed him to avoid the death penalty and will face life in prison without parole, court officials said. Police said the Maryville congregation had a plan in place, including a protocol for lockdown, in the event of an incident such as Sunday’s attack.