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Authorities: Gunman kills wife, then injures pastors during prayers at Lakeland church

LAKELAND — The parishioners knelt at the altar Sunday morning, their heads bowed in prayer. Behind them, a man wearing a dress shirt and slacks entered the sanctuary and walked down the center aisle.

No one knew what he had done earlier that morning.

He approached the altar, stood behind a kneeling pastor and bent forward to look at his face.

No one moved until they heard the first gunshot.

Jeremiah Fogle, 57, shot pastor William Boss once in the back of the head, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. He then moved to the left of the sanctuary and shot associate pastor Carl Stewart three times before being subdued by two parishioners.

The chaotic scene Sunday morning inside Greater Faith Christian Center Church followed the shooting death of Fogle's wife, Theresa, 56, in the couple's home a block away.

"We don't know exactly why he went into this mad rage," said Sheriff Grady Judd. "It's sad. Of all places where you should be safe, you should be safe in your house of worship."

Boss and Stewart were taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where they were listed in critical but stable condition, authorities said.

At a news conference, Judd provided a timeline of how authorities believe it unfolded:

Sometime before 10 a.m., Fogle shot and killed his wife in the house the two shared at 740 Savannah Drive. He then walked about one block to the church at 2035 W Parker St., where about 18 people were kneeling in prayer before the start of the regular Sunday service.

Fogle walked up to Boss and shot him with a Colt .32-caliber revolver.

The prayer congregation, which included women and children, stood up at the first shot, authorities said. Fogle then shot Stewart behind the left ear, in the left shoulder blade and in the middle of his back.

Parishioner Derrick Foster struggled to disarm Fogle while a second church member, Corey Reed, hit the gunman with a microphone stand, authorities said. The two men then tackled and held Fogle for deputies.

"The first thing in my mind was, 'I have to take this gun away,' " Foster, a teacher in the ministry, told the Associated Press. "He had a great grip on the gun. My plan was, as soon as he hit the floor, it would cause him to drop it. But he didn't drop it."

Foster said it took three or four minutes of struggling before he finally wrested the weapon away.

"There's no doubt in our minds that Derrick Foster and Corey Reed are heroes," Judd said. "They stopped other people from being shot and the pastors from being shot more."

Judd said it was a miracle the pastors didn't die, as the shootings were at point-blank range.

Boss was in the Lakeland hospital's intensive care unit, Judd said. Stewart, whose injuries were more serious, underwent surgery and had a tube placed in his chest, having suffered a collapsed lung, authorities said.

Parishioners took custody of the gun until deputies arrived. Five of the gun's six rounds were fired, authorities said. Fogle had six more rounds in his pocket.

Fogle was treated for a cut to his head following the struggle.

Church member Anthony Hudson, 52, said he arrived immediately after the shooting.

"Everybody started scrambling," he said. "People were running, and there were tears. I asked what was going on, and someone told me, 'The pastors have been shot; don't go in there.' "

Hudson said he didn't know Fogle, nor of any issues the man had with the church.

"Maybe he had some kind of grudge inside him," Hudson said.

Fogle was a deacon at the church sometime in the past before leaving due to a disagreement with church leaders, Judd said. He and his wife were married there in April 2002.

Fogle had been arrested in 1986 on a first-degree murder charge in Highlands County, according to sheriff's investigators and state records. But according to authorities and records available Sunday, it was unclear if he was ever prosecuted.

Following Sunday's shooting, he was charged with murder and three counts of attempted murder.

Members of Theresa Fogle's family have no idea what would cause her husband to commit the crime, said her sister, Maria Beauford, 48, of Poinciana.

"He always has a smile on his face; he's always glad to see everyone," she said.

Until about three years ago, the couple attended Good Faith Christian but then formed their own outreach called Emmanuel's Circle of Prayer Ministry.

The two owned a company that shuttled people back and forth from the airport, Beauford said.

Jeremiah Fogle suffered for years from back pain and recently underwent surgery, Beauford said. Theresa Fogle nursed him back to health.

"She was fun-loving and easy-going — thoughtful to everyone and a woman of faith," she said.

Friends of Boss praised him as a caring and concerned man.

"He had a gift from God to speak," Reese King, sports director at a local radio station, told the Ledger of Lakeland. "He was a true pastor, and I can't say that for every pastor here. He had a gift from God to speak."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442. Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

Authorities: Gunman kills wife, then injures pastors during prayers at Lakeland church 09/18/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 19, 2011 12:15am]

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