When Tripp Battle came home to Bradenton a year and a half ago to lead Bayshore Baptist Church with his wife and two kids, his father considered it a "dream come true."
"We felt so blessed that we would have them here," said Jimmy Battle, 68.
Tripp, whose real name was James, like his father, was shot dead Thursday in the courtyard of his Bradenton church. Authorities suspect Andrés "Andy" Avalos, 33, who also is believed to have killed his wife, Amber, the church's nursery and children's director; and a neighbor, Denise Potter, 46, earlier Thursday at the Avalos home in the 1200 block of 67th Street NW.
Deputies found a 2003 Chevrolet Suburban — the vehicle Avalos was seen driving when he left the church — in the parking lot of a Walmart, according to Manatee County sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow. Officials were still looking for Avalos.
"Certainly we believe he has killed three people," Bristow said. "So suffice to say he is armed and extremely dangerous."
Jimmy Battle said Avalos showed up at the church Thursday afternoon. He first started talking to Tripp's wife, Joy, the church secretary, before eventually reaching the pastor.
"Joy saw it, she witnessed it, and he pumped a number of rounds into Tripp," Battle said.
Relatives of Avalos could not immediately be reached.
Amber Avalos, 33, had worked at the church for about nine months or a year, according to Battle. He said she had six kids and Tripp, 31, had tried to counsel her and her husband, who seemed paranoid. Battle said Andrés Avalos "started getting these wild notions about every man that walked by" his wife.
"He was incoherent most all the time," Battle said. "He always thought people were trying to do something they weren't."
Tripp had recently gotten Andrés work laying floor at Jimmy Battle's home, so Battle said he knew the man well.
Tripp Battle was born and raised in Bradenton and went off to play college football at Dana College in Nebraska. He suffered a shoulder injury there and became addicted to pain medication, his father said. He moved home and eventually wound up at Teen Challenge, a counseling and rehabilitation program.
After finishing Teen Challenge, Tripp went to Baptist College of Florida in Graceville. He was a youth pastor in Alabama before moving to Bayshore Baptist.
Outside of church, Battle said, his son mostly cared for his children — Sophie, 6, and Joshua, 3.
Andrés Avalos married Amber in August 2000, according to records. Their children were not home when their mother was killed, authorities said.
Avalos served time in Hillsborough County for multiple DUI convictions between 2004 and 2012. Tampa lawyer Bryant Scriven represented Avalos several times in traffic court and said that he was "shocked" to hear Avalos was a murder suspect.
The lawyer recalled meeting Amber Avalos when he represented her husband.
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"I remember meeting her on a few occasions and she was a lovely young lady," Scriven said. "He certainly seemed to love her and care about his kids."
Times staff writers Katie Mettler and Josh Solomon contributed to this report.