Church Shooter Marked "Death Day" on Calendar

Prosecutors say dozens could have died had gun not jammed

Tuesday, Mar 10, 2009  |  Updated 12:43 PM CDT
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Church Shooting

Prosecutors believe 27-year-old Terry J. Sedlacek intended to kill dozens of people at a downstate church on Sunday. Instead, he killed one, the church pastor.

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Illinois prosecutors say a 27-year-old Troy, Ill., man planned to kill dozens of people when he entered a Baptist church during Sunday services last weekend.

Terry J. Sedlacek was called a quiet teen who washed dishes and helped prepare food at his family's restaurant. 

After a hospitalization during which he almost died, he became known for odd behavior, such as making barking noises. His body would sometimes jerk.

Verna Giley, a former cook at the Key Galaxy Restaurant in Alhambra, said Sedlacek never was threatening -- nothing like the man prosecutors charged Monday with gunning down a Baptist pastor in the middle of his Sunday sermon and then stabbing two congregants.

Neither Madison County prosecutors nor Illinois State Police commented on a possible motive, or whether Sedlacek even knew the Rev. Fred Winters, a married father of two who led the First Baptist Church for nearly 22 years.

"We're still not sure what the reasoning was," said Illinois State Police Lt. Scott Compton, who added investigators had not yet interviewed Sedlacek on Monday afternoon.

But authorities say Sedlacek appeared to have planned the attack, referring to Sunday as "Death Day" on a planner found in his Troy home and carrying enough ammunition to kill 30 people.
  
The shooter had 10 rounds of ammunition in a handgun and was carrying two more 10-round magazines in his pocket, said Madison County State's Attorney William Mudge.

Mudge said it appeared Sedlacek may have arrived at the church, about four miles from his home, as early as 5:30 a.m., partly
because his Jeep was in a parking space close to a door in the crowded parking lot.

"We think he intended to do this," Mudge said.

"He came armed with many rounds of ammunition and a knife, and I think we can surmise that more bloodshed may have occurred," Mudge said.

Sedlacek, of Troy, was charged Monday with first-degree murder and aggravated battery. He was ordered held without bond even as he remained hospitalized.

Sedlacek's attorney, Ron Slemer, told the Belleville News-Democrat that his client has deteriorated both mentally and physically since contracting Lyme disease.

But Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a Lyme disease expert at Yale University, said it would be unlikely that the tick-borne illness would make someone so violent.

"Lyme disease doesn't cause people to shoot people," Shapiro said.

Sedlacek was featured last year in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article detailing his battle with Lyme disease. In the article, his mother said the disease left lesions on his brain and that doctors had diagnosed him as mentally ill before discovering the disease.

In the August 2008 article, Ruth Abernathy said her son was taking several medications and had difficulty speaking after contracting the tick-borne illness.

Untreated Lyme disease can spread to the bones, heart and nervous system. It can cause brain inflammation and in rare cases, problems with concentration and short-term memory, and sleep disturbances, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site.

Other rare nervous-system symptoms include severe headaches and neck stiffness, which can be treated with antibiotics, said Dr. Eugene Shapiro, a Lyme disease expert at Yale University.

There are also isolated reports of hallucinations and psychotic illness blamed on Lyme disease. But these are controversial and some experts -- including Shapiro -- believe affected people likely had pre-existing mental problems or were misdiagnosed and never had Lyme disease.

Shocked by the Shooting

Winters deflected the first of the gunman's four rounds with a Bible, sending a confetti-like spray of paper into the air in a horrifying scene worshippers initially thought was a skit, police said.

"We just sat there waiting for what comes next not realizing that he had wounded the pastor," said Linda Cunningham, whose husband is a minister of adult education at the church.

Winters had stood on an elevated platform to deliver his sermon about finding happiness in the workplace -- titled "Come On, Get Happy" -- and managed to run halfway down the sanctuary's side aisle before collapsing after the attack, Cunningham said.

Autopsy results showed Winters was hit with one bullet that went straight through his heart, Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn said Monday. Nonn would not comment on the distance between the gunman and the pastor.

"Things like this just don't happen in Maryville," Mayor Larry Gulledge said. "We've lost one the pillars of our community, one of our leaders."

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