Bishop Urges Prayer For Church Shooting Victims
A UMNS Report
By Paul Black*
In the aftermath of a shooting at a suburban St. Louis Baptist church, United Methodists are remembering both the victims and shooter in prayer.
Illinois State Police are still piecing together the events and circumstances leading to the shooting at First Baptist Church in Maryville, which left the church's pastor dead and three others, including the shooter, with injuries.
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer called United Methodists in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference to prayer.
Palmer, who was preaching in the Kankakee area when the shooting occurred on March 8, called area United Methodist pastors to offer his support and issued the following statement: "We grieve for the family of Pastor Winters and with the people of First Baptist Church of Maryville and the entire community. We hope and pray for the speedy recovery of those who were physically injured. We will hold in prayer all touched by this tragic act of violence, praying for their emotional and spiritual recovery."
Even as Palmer made the telephone calls, United Methodists were touched by the shooting in this bedroom community 20 miles east of St. Louis.
According to police, a gunman walked down the aisle of First Baptist Church in Maryville shortly after the start of the church's 8:30 a.m. service and approached the church's pastor, the Rev. Fred Winters. Following a brief exchange, the gunman pulled out a .45-caliber handgun and fired four rounds, hitting Winters once in the chest. Before he could fire again, the gun jammed, and the gunman pulled out a knife, injuring himself and two others who tried to subdue him.
United Methodist connection
The Rev. J. Michael Smith (at left), pastor of Urbana Grace United Methodist Church and former pastor of New Bethel United Methodist Church in nearby Glen Carbon, acknowledged the connection between United Methodists and the shooting.
"I'm asking for your prayers tonight for a tragedy which has touched our family and close friends," Smith wrote in his weekly e-mail prayer letter. "Fred Winters, a Baptist pastor in Maryville, Ill. (a vague acquaintance of mine), was killed this morning when a young man named Terry Sedlacek entered his church at the start of the early worship service and shot him four times. I was that young man's pastor for 13 years. His grandmother is one of my closest friends. My daughters grew up with Terry and remember his gentleness and sweetness.
"A lay pastor in that church was quoted by USA Today saying, 'The murder was the work of the devil. Who else would do it?,'" Smith said. "And while I want to be deferential to the anger and unimaginable grief Fred's family and friends are feeling, I also want to reach out to Terry's family, his friends and those who shared childhood with him. And I want to reach out to him."
Smith shared that Sedlacek contracted encephalitis from a tick bite in either 1998 or 1999. "He almost died, and his ability to carry on conversation, his ability to relate to people socially, and his ability to function in society was destroyed," Smith wrote. "The family has sought medical care for him all around the country.
"He continued to relate to them, talking sometimes, and always maintaining the same sweet and gentle personality he has exhibited since childhood. But all paths to independence and self-confidence seemed blocked. At the age of 27, he never strayed far from his mother, and his face would light up when she would return after an absence."
Remember in prayer
Even while state police were continuing to look for a motive, Smith asked that all parties be remembered in prayer. "No one knows what happened this morning. We do not believe he knew this pastor--or had any relationship to this church whatsoever. Our family asks you to pause and lift this grief to God--for the family of Pastor Fred Winters--and for this one who was such a gentle lamb in my flock for many years--and for my dear friend and her family."
State police have announced that first-degree murder charges will be sought against Sedlacek.
Winters was pronounced dead at Anderson Hospital in Maryville, while the two other victims were flown to another hospital with what were reportedly "non-life threatening injuries."
Later reports confirmed Sedlacek and one of the parishioners, 39-year-old Terry Bullard, were undergoing surgeries at St. Louis University Hospital. Bullard underwent surgery for stab wounds and was reported in serious condition. The other parishioner injured, 51-year-old Terry Melton, was treated and released.
Winters, a father of two, had been the pastor of First Baptist Church for 22 years. The former president of the Illinois Baptist State Association, he was an adjunct professor for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Featured in August story
An August 2008 story published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch chronicled Sedlacek's journey with Lyme disease.
The story noted that his parents thought he was getting into drugs or alcohol during his junior year at Edwardsville High School. His behavior included dropping out of activities that had previously interested him, forgetting to attend school and experiencing periods of confusion.
For the next four years, Sedlacek was treated for mental illness, taking as many as 18 pills a day. In 2003, as his physical condition deteriorated, a battery of tests finally found the culprit - two tick-borne diseases: Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis.
No one really knows when or where Sedlacek got Lyme disease, but family members noted that he was an avid hunter and outdoorsman who loved to spend time at a family member's property in Calhoun County in 1998 or 1999.
Following a medically induced coma, Sedlacek was given intravenous antibiotics to combat the pair of diseases. While the initial treatment showed progress, his body seemed to have built up a resistance against the oral antibiotics. The family sought out experts and alternative treatments with mixed success.
At the time the Dispatch story was written, Sedlacek was living with his mother in Troy and had difficulty speaking, had lesions on his brain and was taking anti-seizure medication.
*Black is director of communication ministries for the United Methodist Illinois Great Rivers Conference.