LAKELAND, Fla. — As the congregation bowed their heads and prayed, a former church member stormed into the church and opened fire, shooting the pastor and associate pastor from behind before he was wrestled to the ground.
Earlier, Jeremiah Fogle shot his wife to death at his house, where he had started his own church, authorities and relatives said. They did not know what led to the shootings.
Derrick Foster, a teacher in the ministry, heard the gunfire, then screams and he and another man tackled Fogle.
“The first thing in my mind was, ‘I have to take this gun away,’” said Foster, who was among the 20 or so people at the Sunday service at Greater Faith Christian Center Church.
Foster saw the man near the pulpit, turning around with the gun in his hand.
“He had a great grip on the gun,” Foster said. “My plan was, as soon as he hit the floor, it would cause him to drop it. But he didn’t drop it.”
He said it took three or four minutes of struggling with the gunman before he finally wrested the weapon away.
The gunman had six rounds in his pocket. “He was prepared to shoot even more,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Pastor William Boss and associate pastor Carl Stewart were shot from behind, authorities said. Boss, who was shot in the head, and Stewart, shot three times in the back and ear. No one else at the church was hurt.
“Of all the places you should be safe, you should be safe in a house of worship,” Judd said. “Especially on a Sunday morning.”
As deputies began investigating, a church member advised that they check on Fogle’s wife, who lived with him a block away in a neighborhood of mobile homes, humble houses and industrial shops. Investigators and relatives say 56-year-old Theresa Fogle was found slain inside. They were married at Greater Faith in 2002.
“We don’t know exactly why he went into this mad rage,” Judd said.
Jeremiah Fogle was charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.
Theresa Fogle’s sister Maria Beauford said the couple ran a transportation business together. They had been members of Greater Faith, but had started their own ministry out of their house and regularly hosted Sunday services, Beauford said.
Beauford said she had never known Jeremiah Fogle to be violent toward her sister. He had been sick over the past year and had back surgery, and Theresa Fogle nursed him back to health, Beauford said. She said her brother-in-law was always smiling at family gatherings.
“We have no idea what his motive was,” she said. “We just have no idea.”
Jeremiah Fogle’s older brother, Collis Fogle Jr., said that the couple seemed to have gotten along well.
“It’s so sad,” he said. “I’ve been trying to call to figure out what went wrong.”