LAKELAND, Fla. — The man accused of killing his wife and then shooting two church pastors had pleaded guilty and been sentenced to 10 years of probation in 1987 in the slaying of a previous wife, according to court records.
Jeremiah Fogle, 57, is charged with murder and attempted murder after Sunday’s shootings. Authorities said Fogle shot his wife, Theresa, burst into the front doors of the church and shot the ministers before church members tackled him.
According to the Highlands County Clerk of courts, Fogle pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge in the death of a previous wife.
An affidavit from that killing states that Fogle answered the door holding a rifle and showed an Avon Park police officer the body of his wife. His stepson told investigators he heard Fogle call an ambulance and say he shot someone and wanted to kill himself.
Fogle was to appear in court Monday on the most recent charges. Authorities and relatives said he and Theresa Fogle 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 had a great grip on the gun,” Foster said. “My plan was, as soon as he hit the floor, it would cause him to drop it. But he didn’t drop it.”
He said it took three or four minutes of struggling with the gunman before he finally wrested the weapon away.
The gunman had six rounds in his pocket. “He was prepared to shoot even more,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Pastor William Boss and associate pastor Carl Stewart were shot from behind, authorities said. Boss, who was shot in the head, and Stewart, shot three times in the back and ear. They remained hospitalized early Monday.
Church member Anthony Hudson visited the pastors 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 running out of the church. Pastor Boss came around from the back before collapsing out front. Church members rushed to his aid, she said.
As deputies began investigating, a church member advised that they 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.
It was not immediately clear if Fogle had an attorney. Fogle, with a white bandage around his head, refused to speak with television reporters Sunday night as Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives led him to a patrol car.
Theresa Fogle’s sister Maria Beauford said the couple ran a transportation business together. They had been members of Greater Faith, but had started their own ministry out of their house and regularly hosted Sunday services, Beauford said.
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. She said her brother-in-law was always smiling at family gatherings.
“We have no idea what his motive was,” she said. “We just have no idea.”
Helen Harris said Fogle was recovering from an unknown surgery and had seen him in a wheelchair recently. Her children often went to his house to check on him.
“He was awesome. We just can’t believe that he snapped like that,” said Harris, who lives near the church.