FRESNO, Calif. (BP)–A well-liked church member was fatally shot Sept. 29 while helping with a Wednesday evening fellowship meal at First Southern Baptist Church, Fresno, Calif.
Another church member was taken into custody several hours later in connection with the killing.
Virgil Turner, 44, died of multiple gunshot wounds. Witnesses said Turner was helping in the church kitchen when the shooting occurred. No one else was injured in the incident. Turner was a student at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary enrolled in the seminary’s diploma of theology program at the Southern California Campus in Brea in 1998.
Fresno police identified the accused killer as Steven James Knee, 29, also a member of First Southern Baptist Church. Knee was arrested several hours after the shooting when police stopped his car for allegedly running a stop sign.
A motive for the shooting was not immediately established, although one witness said Turner, who was unarmed, was killed during an argument started by the accused gunman. A church member said Turner and Knee had been in conflict for some time, but did not specify the nature of their dispute.
An undetermined number of church members on hand for the weekly fellowship meal heard gunfire erupt just after 5:30 p.m.
“Bang, bang, bang — six of them right in a row,” church member Orval Reed told The Fresno Bee. One witness told a Fresno television station, “It sounded like a loud cap gun.”
Holly Smith, a member of the church and news assistant for The California Southern Baptist newspaper, was just outside the church kitchen when the shooting happened. Smith said Knee spoke to her as he entered the church fellowship hall and walked toward the kitchen.
A short time later, Smith said, she heard one gunshot, then another, then several more in rapid succession.
Smith said Knee then “walked calmly out of the building, dropped the gun in the grass, got in his car and drove away.”
Ed Kuffel, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, was at the church office in a neighboring building when he learned of the shooting.
“When I got there and walked into the kitchen, which is where Virgil was shot, his son, Scott, was cradling him in his arms. He died in Scott’s arms,” Kuffel told The California Southern Baptist.
“There were people in the fellowship hall. This happened in the kitchen, away from where the crowd was, so we’re all thankful for that,” Kuffel added.
As news of the killing spread, expressions of concern began pouring in from across the nation, Kuffel said. Among the messages recorded on Kuffel’s telephone answering machine was one from Robert E. Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.
“That was a real blessing,” Kuffel said, voicing appreciation for the outpouring of prayers and concern.
“There’s a lot of intense ministry ahead of us and we’re not going to be able to do it without prayer,” he said.
The morning following the fatal shooting, Kuffel took part in the nationally televised “Cope” program on Southern Baptists’ FamilyNet cable television network. He was a guest on the program which also featured Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas, where a gunman killed seven people Sept. 15 before killing himself.
Asked if revival services scheduled to begin Sunday at the Fresno church would proceed as planned, Kuffel told The California Southern Baptist, “Absolutely. We need it more now than ever.”
William Crews, president of Golden Gate Seminary, said, “We are saddened by the loss of such a wonderful servant of God. Bro. Turner continually brought encouragement, delight and inspiration to his classmates and to the staff of the seminary’s Southern California Campus. We pray comfort for the Turner family, his church family and that God may be glorified in such a difficult time as this.”
A spokesman said the seminary planned to hold three prayer meetings at the Brea campus the day after the shooting, when Turner normally would have been attending classes.
In addition to his son, Scott, Turner is survived by his wife, Lisa, and an infant granddaughter, Haley.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Terry Barone contributed to this story.