Jim Suhr - Associated Press Writer - 3/8/2009 4:15:00 PM MARYVILLE, Ill. - A gunman walked down the aisle of an Illinois church during a Sunday service and killed the pastor, then stabbed himself and slashed two other people as congregants wrestled him to the ground, authorities said.
The man walked into the sprawling red brick First Baptist Church shortly after 8 a.m. and briefly spoke with The Rev. Fred Winters before pulling out a .45-caliber handgun and shooting Winters once in the chest, said Illinois State Police Master Trooper Ralph Timmins.
The gun jammed before the man could fire again, Timmins said. The attacker then pulled out a knife and injured himself before churchgoers subdued him. Two parishioners involved in the struggle also suffered knife wounds, Timmins said.
Timmins said officials don't know whether Winters, a married father of two who had led the church for nearly 22 years, and the gunman knew each other.
Officials did not know the suspect's 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," Timmins said.
The Rev. Mark Jones, another pastor at First Baptist, said he did not recognize the gunman, who he saw briefly before the man pulled out his weapon. Jones 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."
Winters was pronounced dead at Anderson Hospital, spokeswoman Natalie Head said. Two people who were injured at the church were flown to another hospital, Head said.
The gunman and one victim, 39-year-old Terry Bullard, were being treated at St. Louis University Hospital, spokeswoman Laura Keller said. Bullard underwent surgery for stab wounds and was in serious condition, she said.
Keller said the gunman underwent surgery Sunday afternoon but could not provide his name, condition or type of injuries.
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.
First Baptist 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 Web site. Winters also was former president of the Illinois Baptist State Association and an adjunct professor for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, according to the site.
"Our great God is not surprised by this, or anything," Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said in a statement. "That He allows evil and free will to have their way in tragedies like this is a mystery in many ways."
The church sits along a busy two-lane highway on the east side of Maryville, a fast-growing village of more than 7,000 people about 20 miles northeast of St. Louis. A farm sits directly across from church, but subdivisions of newer homes can been seen from every side.
"Things like this just don't happen in Maryville," Mayor Larry Gulledge said. "We've lost one of the pillars of our community, one of our leaders."
Congregant Sharla Dryden pulled into the church parking lot for a 9:30 a.m. service in time to see "just a lot of chaos, lot of police, fire, and people just devastated."
"They just said there had been a shooting," said Dryden, 62. "I would have been devastated if anyone had been shot, but to hear it was the pastor was terrible. You just never expect this to happen at a church."
But Jeffrey Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network - a national organization that deals with security, safety and emergency planning for churches, schools and ministries - noted in a statement that while the shooting is a tragedy, it is "one that has been witnessed many times over the years."
Last month, a man shot and killed himself in front of a cross inside televangelist Robert H. Schuller's Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. In November, a gunman killed his estranged wife in a New Jersey church vestibule as Sunday services let out.