Victims of brutal beating in Illinois church expected to recover

| October 8, 2009

ANNA, Ill. (ABP) — An Illinois man faces charges of attempted murder in a brutal beating attack Sept. 28 on two senior-adult women in a small-town Southern Baptist church.

Willis Bates, 45, of Anna, Ill., is accused of attacking 69-year-old Mary Shepard and 76-year-old Leona Mount while burglarizing Anna First Baptist Church. He is being held at at Tri-County Detention Center in nearby Ullin on $1 million bond. A second man, 23-year-old Jared Garver, is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding Bates and lying to police.

Arrest warrants claim that Bates repeatedly kicked the heads and bodies of Shepherd, the church treasurer, and Mount, a maintenance worker, before getting away with less than $600.

Both women were taken by ambulance to Union County Hospital in Anna and airlifted to St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo. Shepard remained there, while Mount was transferred to St. Louis University Hospital in St. Louis. Both women are expected to recover, a fact that church members are calling a miracle.

Shepard’s injuries included a skull fracture, concussion and a possible broken bone in her right cheek. She was moved from the trauma unit to the ICU for observation and later transferred to a regular room. She has since been released from the hospital and is recuperating at home.

Surgery was scheduled Oct. 8 for Mount to begin to repair a broken nose, numerous facial fractures, jaw fractures and a fractured palate. Medical staff at St. Louis University told family members the injuries were like nothing they had ever seen. Despite that, she reportedly suffered no damage to her brain or eyes.

Bates faces charges including four counts of attempted murder — two for intent to kill and two for acts likely to result in death — one count of burglary at a place of worship and two counts of theft. A preliminary hearing is scheduled Oct. 27.

Anna, a quiet southern Illinois town of 5,000 previously best known as the location of a state psychiatric hospital and for its proximity to nearby Jonesboro, site of the third Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858, has in recent days received international media attention for a crime shocking even by big-city standards.

Anna Police Chief Dale Foster told KFVS television in Cape Girardeau, Mo., that the closest thing to violent crime he usually sees is domestic disputes and that most of his department’s unsolved caseload centered on a string of recent auto burglaries.

Because of that, residents breathed a sigh of relief when police caught up with Bates at a motel 25 miles away in Marion, Ill., on Oct. 5, a week after the attack.

In his Oct. 3 sermon, Senior Pastor Tony Foeller said the world would be watching to see how the congregation with an average attendance of 250 reacts to the tragedy. He said unbelievers would ask "Where was your God?" and that even some church members might be thinking the same thing.

"Folks, a 69-year-old woman and a 76-year-old woman were beaten by an assailant or by assailants viciously," he said. "And not only did they survive it, one of them’s already home from the hospital, and the other one is merely awaiting the ability to have surgery performed on her that the medical team at St. Francis said — and I encapsulate — we can fix everything that’s broken."

"I’ll tell you where God was Monday afternoon," Foeller said. "He was right there. He was right with Mary. He was right with Leona. He was at their side. He spared their lives. To this point he’s protected the rest of this community from this animal, or these animals, that have perpetrated this act. I know right where God is. He’s on the case."

Foeller said the question facing the church is whether its faith will be "shaken" or affirmed. "It’s easy to trust God when things are going well, but we have to answer the question, ‘Is he still God?’ And if he is will we trust him when it’s hard to trust him?" he said. "Will we trust his way even when we can’t see it and even when we can’t understand it?"

Foeller admitted to struggling with questions of his own. While the attack at the church was occurring that Monday afternoon, he was in his office with a window-unit air conditioner running and didn’t hear anything.

"I thought what would have been different if a man who is so brave or if men who are so brave that they would sneak into a church building and attack two senior-adult women from behind, I wonder how things would have been different if those responsible had seen me or known that I was there," he told the congregation. "What if I had heard something immediately? I’ve gone through this over and over and over in my head."

Foeller said during his ministry he has served churches in large cities — St. Louis and Cleveland — but "I have never experienced first-hand the evil I experienced Monday in Anna, Illinois."

Foeller told local media the whole thing didn’t have to happen If there was a legitimate financial need, he said, all the assailant had to do was ask.

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Category: Church Security

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