“On Sunday, my husband didn’t die. He simply got a promotion,” Cindy Winters said. She raised a hand to the sky as the “Movin’ on Up” theme from “The Jeffersons” blared from the loudspeakers and the standing-room-only crowd rose to its feet at First Baptist Church in this St. Louis suburb.
Fred Winters was eulogized as a coupon-clipping brainiac who never forgot a name and a devoted family man whose love for basketball was outmatched by his passion for the Bible. The 45-year-old had a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a doctorate, but his wife joked, “I could never teach him how to fold laundry.”
Winters’ closed casket was just feet from where his life ended Sunday, when authorities say Terry Sedlacek, 27, entered the church with a .45-caliber Glock handgun and enough bullets to kill 30 people. Investigators say his eyes were fixed on the preacher as he walked down an aisle toward the altar.
The first shot clipped the Bible Winters was clutching, sending pieces of it spraying like confetti in what some of the 150 onlookers thought at first was a skit. After Sedlacek’s gun jammed, police say, he pulled out a knife and wrestled with two congregants who subdued him. All three were wounded.
None of Friday’s speakers mentioned Sedlacek by name, instead casting the slaying as the work of Satan and the forces of evil. The theme: Channel the grief into greater spirituality.
“Our vision and our purpose still remains the same,” Cindy Winters told mourners, some of whom watched a video feed from a nearby gymnasium because the church was packed.
“You know what? I refuse to let Satan win,” she continued. “I’m not going to hate. And I’m not going to survive this thing – I’m going to be a better person because of this thing.”
Winters said her two young daughters told her, “I want everyone to come to know Jesus through this. I hope the man who did this learns to love Jesus.”
She also quoted the children as saying that Sunday was not “death day” for their father, a reference to the phrase the alleged gunman wrote in his day planner. “It was celebration day, the best day of his life” because he reached heaven, they said.
Sedlacek was being held without bond in Madison County jail on charges of murder and armed criminal action after being transferred from St. Louis to Illinois on Friday afternoon. He had been hospitalized in St. Louis for treatment of self-inflicted stab wounds, then spent Thursday night in the St. Louis city jail.
“The reasons may not be fully understood until we get to glory and are reunited,” said Tim Cowin, a pastor at St. Louis’ Rock Hill Baptist Church. “I believe in all my heart that Pastor Fred died as a hero and as a martyr” – a hero for perhaps drawing the gunman’s fire away from Sunday’s crowd, martyr because he died in spiritual service.
Referring to what authorities said was Sedlacek’s calm walk down the aisle before opening fire, the Rev. Bob Dickerson, a former minister at the church, told mourners: “I can’t help but think the first thought Fred had just those moments before this terrible deed was … here’s somebody that can’t wait to receive Jesus Christ and that’s why he stepped out to greet him in those few moments.”
Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report from Chicago.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.