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Illinois pastor killed after deflecting 1st shot with Bible, police say

The gunman walked down the aisle of a Maryville Baptist church and began shooting at the Rev. Fred Winters, authorities say. The attacker was hospitalized after stabbing himself and two others.

March 09, 2009|Associated Press

MARYVILLE, ILL. — A pastor shot and killed during his Sunday sermon deflected the first of the gunman's four rounds with a Bible that disintegrated into a spray of confetti in a horrifying scene that congregants initially thought was a skit, police said.

The gunman strode down the aisle of the sprawling First Baptist Church shortly after 8 a.m. and spoke briefly with the Rev. Fred Winters before pulling out a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and shooting at the pastor, Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent said.

"We thought it was part of a drama skit. . . . When he shot, what you saw was confetti," said congregant Linda Cunningham, whose husband is a minister of adult education at the church. "We just sat there waiting for what comes next, not realizing that he had wounded the pastor."

The weapon jammed before the man could fire again, Trent said. The attacker then pulled out a four-inch knife, stabbing himself and two men who tackled him, he said.

Winters was pronounced dead at Anderson Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Natalie Head said.

Authorities didn't know whether Winters, a married father of two who had led the church for nearly 22 years, and the gunman knew each other. No one at the church seemed to recognize the 27-year-old gunman. Police would not release his name.

"We don't know the relationship [between the gunman and pastor], why he's here or what the circumstances came about that caused him in the first place to be here," said Illinois State Police Master Trooper Ralph Timmins.

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.

Keller did not release details of the gunman's condition or injuries.

The other victim, Keith Melton, was treated and released from Gateway Regional Medical Center, spokeswoman Kate Allaria said.

First Baptist sits along a busy two-lane highway on the east side of Maryville, a fast-growing village of more than 7,000 about 20 miles northeast of St. Louis. A farm sits directly across from the church, but subdivisions of newer homes can be seen from every side.

The church had an average attendance of 32 people when Winters became senior pastor in 1987; it now has about 1,200 members, according to the church's website.

Winters also was former president of the Illinois Baptist State Assn. and an adjunct professor for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the website said.

"Things like this just don't happen in Maryville," Mayor Larry Gulledge said. "We've lost one the pillars of our community, one of our leaders."

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