NEW ORLEANS — The daughter of a southwest Louisiana pastor who was killed at a revival service says that if her father could talk to his killer, he’d say, “I forgive you and I love you.”
Ronald Harris Sr. was a man who picked his five grandchildren up from school every day and took them for a snack, a man who loved to fish and a minister who preached both hellfire and God’s love, Talisha Harris said. The 53-year-old pastor’s favorite Bible passage was “I can do all things through Christ.”
The man accused of shooting him on Friday in Lake Charles was once a member of the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center but left about four years ago, she said Sunday.
Harris said neither she, her brother, nor her mother knows of a possible motive. Woodrow Karey, 53, of Lake Charles stopped going to church without saying why, but didn’t display any animosity, she said.
“One question I do want to ask him is why,” the 31-year-old said. “My dad had a big heart. He’d help anybody.”
Karey, who has no known history of crime or mental troubles, called to surrender minutes after the shooting Friday night and told deputies where to find a shotgun and a .22-caliber pistol he had left in nearby woods, said Kim Myers, spokeswoman for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office.
He was booked on a second-degree murder charge and remained jailed Sunday, his bond set at $1 million.
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The preaching had not yet begun Friday night when the gunman burst into the sanctuary. The congregation of 65 people or more was waiting for some out-of-town visitors, Harris said.
Her father was singing. So was she, as a member of the five-person praise group that accompanied him.
Then, she said, the woman who had been handing out visitor packets at the front door ran in, shouting, “He got a gun! He got a gun! He got a gun!”
“He came in down the middle aisle. He shot at my daddy” but hit a flower pot, Harris said. “My daddy ran. He shot him in the back. When he fell, he came closer and shot him again.”
The gunman ran out a side door, she said.
Harris said her father had told her that, as a child, he heard God tell him that he would be a minister and preacher. He joined the church in 1983 and began preaching about six years later, she said.
The family moved from Natchitoches, in central Louisiana, after the Lake Charles church – then called Calvary Pentecostal Church – voted him in as pastor. In Lake Charles, her father attended Vision of Faith Theological Seminary, she said.
The congregation built and named the current church around 2000.
Harris said her father always made time for his own children, and acted as a father to many other children. “The people in our church, he’d treat them as if they were family,” she said.
A candlelight service is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Tabernacle of Praise Worship, and a memorial service at 7 p.m. Thursday at True Light Baptist Church in Lake Charles.
Harris’ funeral will be Saturday morning at Agape Love Church in Natchitoches, with his wake Friday evening.
Harris said that forgiveness and love wouldn’t be her father’s only message to his killer.
“He’d say, `Come to church. And let God visit (your) mind.'”