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Church resumes services week after pastor slain

Sunday, March 15, 2009 | 6:13 p.m. CDT

MARYVILLE, Ill. — The church whose senior pastor was gunned down during his sermon resumed services Sunday with support from a guest preacher whose church in Texas also was bloodied by a gunman's rampage.

The Rev. Al Meredith of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, opened his sermon to roughly 200 people at First Baptist Church's early service by apologizing that he wasn't "Pastor Fred."

"I'm so sorry it's just me," Meredith said as he choked back tears. "I am so sorry this happened to you. We're praying for you."

Police said the Rev. Fred Winters was shot through the heart during last weekend's early service at First Baptist by Terry Sedlacek. Police said Sedlacek later tried to injure himself with a knife, wounding two men who subdued him.

Police at the service

On Sunday, two dozen police officers stood outside the main doors, partly because some congregants had voiced fear about whether it was safe returning to the church.

During his sermon, Meredith told the Maryville congregation that he came to "be with you to let you know there is hope" and that "you're never gonna get over this, but with God's grace you're gonna get through it."

Meredith, 62, spoke about his own experience at Wedgwood Baptist, where a man opened fire on Sept. 15, 1999, killing seven people and wounding seven others.

The Wedgwood attacker, Larry Gene Ashbrook, 47, had two guns, 200 rounds of ammunition and a pipe bomb in his pockets. He rolled one bomb down the aisle before killing himself. Investigators did not have a motive but suggested that he was mentally ill.

No motive yet

Investigators in Maryville said they found in Sedlacek's bedroom an index card marked "Last Day Will" and a planner that singled out that Sunday as "death day." Police have yet to find a motive. Sedlacek, who was charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery, was being held without bail.

Rosanna Kosek, 60, attended the early service Sunday and said Meredith's words of comfort resonated.

"It reaffirmed my thoughts that I'm on the right track," said Kosek, who wasn't at the service in which Winters was killed. "I wanted to come to the early one because I wanted to say I am not afraid. Evil is not going to keep me away from church."

 


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