Lakeland Police and Polk County Sheriff’s Deputies investigate a shooting in Lakeland, Fla. on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011. A gunman killed his wife at their Florida home and then burst through the front door of a nearby church on Sunday, wounding a pastor and associate pastor before parishioners tackled him, authorities and relatives said. The suspect, 57-year-old Jeremiah Fogle, killed one person at a home about a block away from the church before shooting the pastors, the Polk County Sheriff’s office said. The two men, pastor William Boss and associate pastor Carl Stewart, were in critical condition. Maria Beauford said the slain woman was her sister, 56-year-old Theresa Fogle. The Fogles married in 2002 and had been members of Greater Faith Christian Center Church, where the shootings happened, but had started their own ministry out of their house and regularly hosted Sunday services, Beauford said. (AP Photo/The Lakeland Ledger, Pierre DuCharme)
LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — Two wives have been shot and killed by a Florida man who is also accused of wounding two ministers at a church where he was once a deacon, officials said Monday.
Jeremiah Fogle, 57, is charged with murdering his wife, Theresa, and with attempted murder in Sunday’s shootings. Years before, Fogle had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of his wife, Diane, and was sentenced in 1987 to 10 years’ probation after a first-degree murder charge was dropped, officials said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Fogle has been married at least seven times and expressed outrage that he was a free man despite the earlier wife’s killing.
“Of the seven, he’s managed to kill two of them. I wouldn’t want to marry him if he gets out again,” Judd said.
During a hearing Monday, Fogle was ordered held without bond and assigned a public defender. He appeared stoic and did not speak when he appeared via video conference.
The congregation on Sunday had been bowing their heads in prayer when Fogle burst inside. Church members were able to tackle him, take away the gun and hold him until deputies arrived.
Calls to a 911 dispatcher described a chaotic scene with people running and screaming from the church, where four or five shots were heard. One call came from one of the victims.
“There’s a man that just shot us,” the caller says. “Please help us, ma’am. Please. I been shot.”
Judd also said investigators found a journal, three letters and a note in the Fogles’ home that appeared to be in Theresa Fogle’s handwriting. The contents appeared to involve Theresa Fogle’s confessions to infidelity, the sheriff said, but it was not clear if the writings were done voluntarily.
In his previous wife’s death, an affidavit states Fogle answered the door holding a rifle and showed an Avon Park police officer the woman’s body. His 10-year-old stepson told investigators he heard Fogle call an ambulance and say he shot someone and wanted to kill himself.
Prosecutors reduced the charge from first-degree murder, saying that Fogle had handled the rifle in a “negligent, careless and reckless manner,” and they recommended probation instead of a prison sentence, according to court documents. The documents do not explain why the charge was reduced or why prosecutors recommended probation.
Diane Fogle’s daughter, 31-year-old Shekema Clark of Tampa, said Monday the couple had been married only about five months when her mother was shot on the bedroom floor.
Clark, who was 6 at the time, said that her stepfather was an argumentative husband, and that her mother refrained from arguing back.
Clark said she didn’t know Fogle had not served prison time until she heard of Sunday’s shootings.
“If you already killed one person and got away with it, why would you do it again? It’s disturbing,” she said.
Authorities and relatives said the Fogles had been members of the Greater Faith Christian Center Church before starting their own ministry out of their home.
Derrick Foster, a teacher at Greater Faith, told The Associated Press he heard gunfire and screams before 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 said it took three or four minutes of struggling before he finally wrested the weapon away.
“What’s amazing is, he was laughing. Not audibly, but he had this sinister look on his face. He looked like he was happy for doing it,” Foster said Monday.
“I don’t think I’m a hero, but at that time it was fight or flight,” he said.
The gunman had six rounds in his pocket. “He was prepared to shoot even more,” Judd said.
Pastor William Boss and associate pastor Carl Stewart were shot from behind, authorities said. Boss was shot in the head, and Stewart was shot three times in the back and ear. They remained hospitalized Monday.
“Quite frankly, it is by the grace of God that they are alive today,” Judd said. “They should be dead.”
Church member Anthony Hudson visited the men at the hospital Monday and said both were in good spirits.
“Minister Stewart, I got to shake his hand and I saw him with his eyes open and lit up. That made me feel real good to know he was doing well,” Hudson said.
No one else at the church was hurt.
Eva Henderson was talking on the phone in her driveway when she heard gunshots across the street and watched panicked parishioners run out of the church. Boss came around from the back before collapsing out front. Church members rushed to his aid, she said.
A church member advised deputies to 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.
Judd said Fogle had previously been a deacon at the church where the shootings took place. About six years ago, one of the pastors who was shot, Boss, asked Fogle to take a sabbatical “because some women in the church complained about the way he hugged them.” The two had a falling out after that.
Theresa Fogle’s sister Maria 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.
Beauford said Monday that her family new nothing about Jeremiah Fogle’s past marriages or criminal record, and that her sister probably didn’t know, either.
Beauford said her sister’s marriage also had been a shock because she married Fogle soon after her previous husband died of cancer. Their families had known each other through church in the 1970s and 1980s, but Beauford didn’t know that her sister and Fogle had reconnected until they announced their marriage.
“She did not know everything, and if she did, she didn’t tell anyone about it,” Beauford said. “He always gave us the impression that he was jovial, happy, glad to see us. That’s why we’re still in shock.”
Associated Press writers Mike Schneider, Jennifer Kay, Christine Armario and Curt Anderson contributed to this report.