Church killing suspect had 'death day'

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
**FILE**In this 2001 file photo, Rev. Fred Winters is shown. A gunman walked down the aisle of the church on Sunday, March 8, 2009 in Maryvillle, Ill. during a Sunday service and killed pastor Winters, then stabbed himself and slashed two other people as congregants wrestled him to the ground, authorities said. (AP Photo/Belleville News-Democrat, Steve Nagy, File)

MARYVILLE, Ill. -- The man charged with gunning down a pastor mid-sermon then stabbing two congregants referred to Sunday as "death day" on a planner found in his home and carried enough ammunition to kill 30 people, a prosecutor said Monday.

Madison County State's Attorney William Mudge did not know how the reference was entered in alleged gunman Terry J. Sedlacek's day planner, only that it singled out Sunday as "death day."

"The only thing I can really comment on is he came armed with many rounds of ammunition and a knife, and I think we can surmise that more bloodshed may have occurred," Mudge said Monday.

Sedlacek, 27, of Troy, Ill., was charged Monday with first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the attack that killed the Rev. Fred Winters and left two congregants who tackled the gunman with stab wounds.

Neither Mudge nor Illinois State Police would comment on a possible motive in the attack, or on Sedlacek's mental state when he allegedly strode into First Baptist Church shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday, exchanged words Winters, then began firing.

SETH PERLMAN ~ Associated Press
Members of the First Baptist Church prepare for prayer and grief counseling Monday in Maryville, Ill. Murder charges were filed Monday in the shooting death of an Illinois pastor gunned down as he preached Sunday at the church.

No motive yet known

"We're still not sure what the reasoning was," said Illinois State Police Lt. Scott Compton, who added investigators had not yet interviewed Sedlacek Monday afternoon.

Sedlacek once suffered bouts of erratic behavior his family said were due to Lyme disease. In an August 2008 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Ruth Abernathy said her son was taking several medications and had difficulty speaking after contracting the tick-borne illness.

A telephone call to a number listed for Robert and Ruth Abernathy in Troy rang unanswered Monday. One of Sedlacek's aunts, Joann Self of Glen Carbon, said Monday the family had no comment.

Sedlacek's attorney, Ron Slemer, told the Belleville News-Democrat that his client's family is "very sorry for the pastor's congregation." Slemer said Sedlacek's mental and physical condition suffered after he contracted Lyme disease several years ago.

A display outside the First Baptist Church offers offer sympathy as the church prepares for prayer and grief counseling in Maryville, Ill., Monday, March 9, 2009. Murder charges were filed Monday in the shooting death of an Illinois pastor gunned down as he preached Sunday at the church. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

But Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a Lyme disease expert at Yale University, said it would be unlikely that the tick-borne illness would make someone so violent.

"Lyme disease doesn't cause people to shoot people," Shapiro said.

Mudge said Sedlacek had 10 rounds of ammunition in a handgun and was carrying two more 10-round magazines in his pocket at First Baptist on Sunday. The .45 caliber Glock jammed after four shots were fired at Winters, prosecutors said, but not before one bullet fatally struck him in the heart after he deflected the first with his Bible.

Sedlacek was ordered held without bond even as he remained hospitalized Monday in serious condition. Authorities said he stabbed himself in the throat while being wrestled to the ground by two congregants, who also were wounded.

A 39-year-old congregant, Terry Bullard, also remained in serious condition Monday. The third victim, Keith Melton, was treated and released.

Mudge said it appeared Sedlacek may have arrived at the church, about four miles from his home, as early as 5:30 a.m., partly because his Jeep was in a parking space close to a door in the crowded parking lot.

"We think he intended to do this," Mudge said.

'We pray for him'

But neither Mudge nor Illinois State Police could say Monday whether Sedlacek knew Winters, a married father of two who had led the church for nearly 22 years.

"We actually pray for him," First Baptist associate pastor Mark Jones said Monday of Sedlacek. Jones said one of the church's pastors visited with Sedlacek's family Monday.

"He apparently has a second chance," Jones said. "I believe that he's alive and that maybe he too needs to go back to the Bible and read that book and ask the question, 'is this really God's word and do I need to reconsider some things?"'

None of the 150 worshippers attending the Sunday service seemed to recognize Sedlacek, and investigators did not know details of Winters' conversation with him but planned to review an audio recording of the service. Compton said he didn't know if investigators had reviewed the audio Monday.

Several visitors stopped by the church Monday. Gwen Lawson, 23, fought an icy wind as she pushed her 1-year-old son in his stroller after visiting the church, where her husband ministers to college-age students.

Her eyes welled up and she fought back tears when she spoke.

"I really haven't had time to process it all," she said, her voice choking. "I don't want to go through the details; it's just a very tragic event."

Winters deflected the first of the gunman's four rounds with a Bible, sending a confetti-like spray of paper into the air in a scene worshippers initially thought was a skit, police said. Winters had stood on an elevated platform to deliver his sermon about finding happiness in the workplace -- titled "Come On, Get Happy" -- and witnesses said he managed to run halfway down the sanctuary's side aisle in an attempt to escape the attack.

Autopsy results showed Winters was hit with one bullet that went straight through his heart, Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn said Monday. Nonn would not comment on the distance between the gunman and the pastor.

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