Lakeland ministers shot at church by former church deacon
LAKELAND - Pastor William Boss was kneeling, leading church members at the Greater Faith Christian Center in prayer before the Sunday morning service, when Jeremiah Fogle walked into the sanctuary with a loaded gun. Fogle, a former deacon at the Lakeland church, walked up to Boss, took a closer look to make sure it was him and shot Boss once in the back of the head. Then Fogle turned and shot the Rev. Carl Stewart, the church's associate pastor, three times before two parishioners tackled him, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Before showing up at the church just before 10 a.m., Fogle, 57, shot and killed his wife, Theresa Fogle, about a block away at their home, where the two had been leading worship services since breaking away from the Greater Faith Christian Center. Deputies found her dead on the living room floor. The Sunday-morning shootings upended what was supposed to be a holy day of prayer, leaving people feeling scared and confused, with lots of unanswered questions."We're trying to find out exactly what forced him to go into this killing rage on a Sunday morning," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "It's sad because of all the places you should be safe, you should be safe in your house of worship. And you should be safe in your house of worship on a Sunday morning." Boss and Stewart are in critical but stable condition at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. Fogle was arrested on one count of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and shooting into an occupied dwelling, the sheriff's office said. He was being evaluated at Lakeland Regional Medical Center on Sunday night for injuries that he sustained when the two parishioners tackled him. After the medical evaluation was completed, he will be transferred to the Polk County Jail, the sheriff's office said. In April 2002, the former deacon married his wife, who turned 56 this month, at the Greater Faith Christian Center, at 2035 West Parker St., a small black Pentecostal church in a residential, predominantly black and Hispanic part of northwest Lakeland. But Jeremiah and Theresa Fogle broke away from the church several years ago after a rift with the church and started holding services at their house, family members said. The two ran a company called Fogle's Transport Service out of their house at 740 Savannah Ave. No one answered a call to the business Sunday, and state records show the company hasn't been incorporated since 2002. Theresa Fogle, who didn't have children, was a homemaker and took care of her husband, who had undergone a lot of surgeries to correct back and shoulder problems, said Laura Gardin, the victim's sister. "Every time you seen her, she had a smile," Gardin said. "You would never know that anything was wrong. Every time you seen her, she had a smile on her face. If you called to say you need her, she was there. "She was always trying to keep him happy. Never would have I imagined." In 1986, Fogle was arrested for first-degree homicide in Highlands County, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Records. But he does not appear to have been convicted of the charge, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. Judd said the disposition of the case would be uncertain until the courts open Monday. After shooting his wife, Fogle walked to the church, wearing a dress shirt and pants and carrying a loaded .32-caliber handgun, with another six rounds in his pocket, the sheriff's office said. "He was prepared to shoot more," Judd said. "He went into a mad rage … a killing rage on a Sunday morning," Judd said. Fogle walked through the front door of the church, where 18 children and adults were praying – all but one on their knees. An older woman who couldn't kneel watched him walk down the center aisle to Boss, Judd said. He shot Boss in the back of the head and shot Stewart behind the left ear, in the left shoulder and in the middle of his back, the sheriff's office said. Derrick Foster, one of the parishioners, grabbed Fogle's gun, while another church member, Corey Reed, hit Fogle over the head with a microphone stand. They held him down until deputies arrived minutes later. "There is no doubt in our mind that Derrick Foster and Corey Reed are heroes," Judd said. "They stopped other people from being shot or stopped the assistant minister or pastor from being shot even more." The shootings have shaken people close to the church, which William and Sharon Boss founded in 1993. Reese King, a sports director and radio show host for 1330 AM, said Boss, a longtime friend, is faithful to his church, his congregation and his community. Boss, who also hosts a religious program on 1330 AM, has an oratory gift, King said. When he speaks, people listen. "He has no boundaries," King said. "Not only did he mentor kids inside this institution but on the air with gospel. "He was a true pastor. He had a gift from God. He had a gift to speak." Among other efforts, the church runs a food bank, homeless and prison ministries and a K-8 school, the Greater Faith Christian Academy, according to its website. Outside the church Sunday afternoon, two women who are close to Boss stood outside sobbing, praying and holding each other. Tinisha Johnson and Charlene Glover called Boss a devoted Christian who had been instrumental in their lives. "He's been in our lives since we were children," Johnson said. "He's always supported us through everything we did, whether we made good decision or bad decisions." The women were disturbed that someone had committed a violent act at a church. "If we can't feel safe in the church, where can we feel safe?" Johnson asked.
Reporter Rachel Pleasant contributed to this report. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7659 email@example.com (813) 731-8002