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Southern Baptists pray, stay calm amid W.Va. shootings

CHARLESTON, W.Va.–As new developments emerge daily related to three sniper-style killings in Kanawha County, W.Va., Aug. 10-14, Southern Baptists living in the area are praying for peace and justice to prevail.

“We’ve been praying for Sheriff (Dave) Tucker, Charleston Police Chief Jerry Pauley and (Charleston) Mayor Danny Jones by name every week during our regular Wednesday evening prayer meetings,” along with other local, state and national leaders, said John Jicka, pastor of North Charleston Baptist Church, the largest SBC church in Charleston.

“Now we must pray for them daily,” Jicka said during his Aug. 20 service.

Later that same night, an alleged fourth shooting occurred in Dunbar, a town next to Charleston, the state capitol and site of the first shooting. So far no bullet has been recovered, but following the alleged incident police were involved in a high-speed chase of a dark, extended-cab pickup truck, the type repeatedly talked about by witnesses at the scenes of the other shootings.

Two major developments were released late Aug. 21, as Charleston Police Chief Pauley issued a composite sketch of the shooting suspect and announced the result of ballistics testing: all three victims were killed by the same weapon, a .22-caliber rifle.

Gary Carrier, 44, of South Charleston, was shot Aug. 10 with a single shot to the head while using a pay phone outside a Charleston convenience store. On Aug. 14, Jeanie Patton, 31, and Okey Meadows Jr., 26, both of Campbells Creek, each were killed about an hour apart at separate convenience stores in the Campbells Creek area. Patton was killed by a shot to the head while pumping gas and Meadows took a shot in the neck.

“There’s an element of anger that something like this could be done,” said Bernard Toppings, pastor of Witcher Baptist Church, located on the same road and between the sites of the two Campbells Creek slayings. People in his church knew Meadows, who was a member of Big Bottom Missionary Baptist Church on Campbells Creek Drive and an active volunteer with his church’s AWANA children’s program. That area is now being canvassed intensively by police, FBI and ATF agents for possible evidence and clues.

“I’m driving a truck just like the one they’re looking for,” said Toppings, who also is director of missions for the Pioneer Baptist Association, covering the area of all of the shootings. “We know it is being done by some coward. The main thing we’ve seen come out of all of this is requests for prayers for the families of the victims.”

Jicka’s wife, Sherry, knows Patton’s son, John, who attends the school where she has been a guidance counselor the past four years. She said she wrote him a note following his mother’s death and is “looking forward to seeing him and doing what I can to encourage him” when Kanawha County schools open Aug. 26.

On Charleston’s Westside area, site of the Aug. 10 shooting, members of the West Charleston Baptist Church also are praying for a quick end to the attacks. Norm Cannada, pastor of the church and a church planter strategist in Charleston since 1997 with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, said his church was having a revival during the week of all three shootings. A man named Danny, a relative of the second victim, came to the church the day after Patton was killed.

“He was wondering how it could happen, and I told him there’s no answer for that,” Cannada said. “But I did tell him God didn’t cause it and it didn’t knock God off his throne. I’m trying to lead people not to be afraid because God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear, but he has given us the spirit of love, power and a sound mind.”

During the day Aug. 14, Debbie Cannada, Norm’s wife, was at an in-service training meeting with Patton all day as both qualified as substitutes in the Kanawha County school system.

“My children play ball straight across the street from where the first shooting took place, and that convenience store is less than a mile from our home and church,” Debbie Cannada said. “It’s an unnerving situation to be in, especially when you have a 16-year-old driving home by himself at night after work. When something like this hits close to home, it’s kind of weird, and seeing your sheriff and your police chief on national news makes you think this just shouldn’t be happening.”

On Aug. 18 Debbie Cannada was eating lunch at the Subway store in Charleston’s Westside area when Sheriff Tucker walked in. As he stood in line to order his food, she said she walked up to him and said, “I just want you to know that I’m praying for you and that we have confidence that you will get this thing taken care of.” She said Sheriff Tucker “teared up, and said, ‘Honey, you can’t know how much that means to me.'”

Norm Cannada, who regularly does prayer walks through the Westside area, said, “I think people are certainly wary and a little nervous right now. We’re encouraging people not to hide, not to overreact, but to be careful and aware of their surroundings, to do things they can do, such as don’t go out late at night, especially to a convenience store. We’re praying for the leaders in charge and praying God will give them the wisdom and courage to do what needs to be done.

“Right now we’re just on the fringe of this thing,” Cannada said, “but God will open a door and we’ll do whatever needs to be done.”

Terry Harper, executive director of the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists, said, “We stand ready to be of assistance to anyone who should need it.” He said he is sure pastors in the area “are preaching messages on dealing with fears and how to go about life in the midst of dangers. Other than that, there’s not a lot we can do but stand ready to comfort folks and offer guidance and assurance where we can.”

The Wal-Mart in South Charleston, hometown of the first victim, has removed some violent video games from the store’s electronic section. Wal-Mart managers are allowed independently to remove merchandise from their stores “when they feel it is not in the best interest of their community to keep the products,” said store management.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at https://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PASTOR’S PEACE.

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  • Debbie Moore