Church pays tribute to slain pastor

| March 8, 2010

MARYVILLE – The First Baptist Church of Maryville on Sunday honored the Rev. Fred Winters, who was shot to death during a Sunday service a year ago today.

The Rev. Dr. Tom Hufty welcomed more than 1,500 people to the 9 a.m. service in tribute to the late pastor. Authorities say Terry J. Sedlacek of Troy shot Winters through the heart with a .45-caliber pistol during an 8 a.m. service in the sanctuary on March 8, 2009.

A video tribute on two large screens showed Winters' life as a pastor and family man. As the congregation watched, parishioners wiped away tears.

"Our church went through the biggest tragedy a church can go through," Hufty said. "Today we will be remembering, reflecting and celebrating."

He said although the church will forever be marked by the event, it is not defined by it.

Parishioners at the service the morning of the shooting were recognized, as were individuals who came to Winters' aid and those who subdued Sedlacek until police arrived. Sedlacek is accused of stabbing two people, as well as himself, during the struggle.

The pastor's widow, Cindy Winters, thanked the crowd for attending.

"I can't believe it's been a year," she said. "I've looked forward to this and dreaded it at the same time. Knowing all of you would be here today helped me out."

She said everyone's kindness, words and prayer have been a healing ointment for her wounded heart.

"One of the things I've learned about major events in our lives is we are always retelling them," she said.

She said whenever there is a baby born, the news is shared, as well as taking a dream vacation.

"We want to share our experiences," she said.

She said people have told her how they heard of her husband's murder and what they were doing when he was gunned down.

"I'm going to share with you some of my story," Winters said. "So much of what I will tell you seems like a dream."

She said several months before her husband's death, she was driving past a cemetery near her home. She saw a funeral and thought about her family and their loss.

"I thought that day my life may not be perfect, but I'm happy," she said.

Winters said on the morning of the shooting she woke to the sound of her husband's alarm clock and made sure he got up. She said she usually would go back to sleep, but that Sunday she got up to exercise.

She said as her husband finished preparing his sermon her oldest daughter, Alysia, got ready so she could go with her father to church.

She said she almost didn't let her go because she had just recovered from pneumonia.

Winters said as she and her daughter, Cassidy, came to church they noticed police cars and fire trucks at the entrance. She said she thought it was a crash but was puzzled when authorities asked drivers to pull over.

She said she asked an officer what was going on.

"Ma'am, there has been an incident in the church," she said she was told by a firefighter directing traffic. "I need you to pull over."

She said she identified herself as the pastor's wife and was again asked to pull over. She said she received a phone call from a friend in Northern Illinois praying for her.

She said a second call came in and asked her what was going on.

"I didn't know," she said.

She said church members started to approach her car and she asked if they knew what was happening.

"She doesn't know," Winters said one of the three told her.

She looked into the face of one of the parishioners she knew well and asked.

"I will never forget the look on his face and the sigh he took. 'Fred's been shot,'" Winters said the parishioner told her.

She said she was taken to the hospital, where she learned her husband had died.

"I've never been so afraid in my entire life as I was then," she said. "Walking down the hall I saw a bed, and all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. I wanted to get away from it all."

She said the next step – and the most difficult – was telling her children.

"I watched their hearts break into pieces that day," she said. "My heart broke for all they wouldn't have. They would no longer be able to say the word 'dad.'

She said her girls didn't deserve to suffer.

"I believe God was next to Fred that day," she said. "Life can end for any of us without warning."

She said everyone needs to be aware life can change at any moment.

"Even though my circumstances changed, the God that I know did not," she said. "I was always taught and I believed, but now I know it. My tragedy made headlines, but knowing Jesus gave me the strength."

Cindy Winters also has used the experience of the past year to form a new ministry, Grace and Hope Ministries. Its Web site is www.GraceAndHopeministries.org.

Sunday's service was aired live on the church's Web site, www.fbmaryville.org.

There was no mention of the man who changed the Winters family or the congregation.

Sedlacek is being treated in a mental health facility after he was found unfit to stand trial in Madison County Circuit Court. He eventually may face trial on a first-degree murder charge if his condition improves.

 

http://www.thetelegraph.com/news/winters-37219-church-asked.html

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