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Fla. church shooting suspect arrested

BRADENTON, Fla. (BP) — A suspect has been arrested in the shooting deaths of a Florida pastor, a church staff member and one other person.

Andres “Andy” Avalos, a suspect in the murders of Pastor Tripp Battle of Bayshore Baptist Church in Bradenton, Fla., and two women, was arrested Saturday (Dec. 6) by Manatee County Sheriff’s deputies at a mobile home park about two blocks from the church, the Bradenton Herald reported.

On Thursday (Dec. 4), officers responded to a shooting at Bayshore and discovered that Battle, 31, had been fatally shot. While investigating at the church, deputies learned of other victims at a residence in Bradenton. They found Amber Avalos and Denise Potter, both deceased.

Amber Avalos was the nursery and children’s director at Bayshore and the alleged shooter’s wife.

E.W “Karp” Carpenter, a member of the church since the 1950s, told the Herald that the children’s director “was a quiet person who did a great job with our children.”

Officials from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said that the two crime scenes “are obviously connected” and that there were three people at Bayshore at the time of the shooting, including the shooter.

Battle is survived by his wife, Joy, who is listed on Bayshore’s website as the church secretary, and their two children.

Carpenter said that Battle “was a great pastor” and that the church grew from 30 to more than 100 under his leadership.

The pastor “was 31 years old and would give you the shirt off his back,” Carpenter said.

Battle is the son-in-law of Keith Johnson, pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in Miami.

First Baptist Church of Orange Park, Fla., has launched a campaign to raise money for the Battle family.

“Pastor Tripp did not have life insurance,” First Baptist said on its website. “Therefore, there is a very real need for financial help for Joy and the children at this time. If you feel led to give to this pastor’s wife, you can do so here. We will collect gifts through Dec. 31 and after the first of the year will send a check for the total amount to Joy Battle for her to use as she needs.”

More than 420 people have died in incidents involving deadly force at churches and other faith-based organizations in America since 1999, church security expert Carl Chinn reported in a 2013 issue of SBC LIFE, the journal of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. The article recommended ways churches can protect themselves against violent intruders. Among them:

— Form a security ministry team to assess security needs throughout the week and during Sunday activities.

— Assess security risks like entry doors without a greeter to monitor them on Sunday or a receptionist to monitor them during the week, unsecure children’s areas and doors that remain unlocked at night where intruders can slip in and hide.

— Formulate plans for evacuating and locking down buildings in the event of a violent intruder.

— Consider hiring off-duty police officers or a security company to provide armed security during church events.

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