Maryville, Ill. A pastor shot and killed during his Sunday sermon deflected the first of the gunman’s four rounds with a Bible, sending a confetti-like spray of paper into the air 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 briefly spoke with the Rev. Fred Winters, then pulled out a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and began firing until it jammed, Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent said. Churchgoers wrestled the gunman to the ground as he waved a knife, slashing himself and two other people, Trent said.
None of the about 150 congregants seemed to recognize the gunman and investigators do not know details of Winters’ conversation with him, but they planned to review an audio recording of the service, Trent said. The service was not videotaped.
“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.”
Winters had stood on an elevated platform to deliver his sermon about finding happiness in the workplace and managed to run halfway down the sanctuary’s side aisle before collapsing, Cunningham said.
Two congregants tackled the gunman as he pulled the 4-inch knife, and all three were stabbed, police said. The gunman suffered “a pretty serious wound to the neck” while one congregant had lower back wounds, Trent said.
Congregants knocked the gunman between sets of pews, then held him down until police arrived, said church member Don Bohley, who was just outside the sanctuary when the shooting began.
“People came running out and told us to call 911,” said Bohley, 72.
Authorities didn’t know whether Winters, a married father of two who had led the church for nearly 22 years, knew the gunman. Police described the gunman as a 27-year-old from nearby Troy but would not release his name pending possible charges.
“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.
Trent said investigators found no immediate evidence of a criminal background for the suspect. He said police were investigating whether a red Jeep parked outside the church belonged to the man.
The Jeep was registered to the address of a 27-year-old man in an upscale neighborhood in Troy. No one answered the door at the residence Sunday. A woman from a neighboring home cried while hugging other neighbors in the cul-de-sac, but all declined comment.