A Pastor Is Shot and Killed in the Pulpit: His Widow Speaks

reflections-pitMarch 8, 2009. It’s hard to believe four years have passed. I was on my way to church when I got the message that a pastor in Illinois had been shot. The next caller informed me that he was dead. But the third caller told me his name: Fred Winters.

Fred was my friend and former student. I had just been with him at a conference in Naples, Florida. Surreal. It all seemed surreal.

But imagine how his wife felt when she found out that her young husband had been shot and killed in the first worship service that morning. No, instead of imagining, hear Cindy Winters’ words directly from her new book, Reflections from the Pit.

Cindy Speaks

March 8th started off like a regular Sunday morning for us.  It was time change Sunday, so when the alarm clock went off, I felt a little more exhausted than usual, but other than that the events in our home were going along like normal.  Fred got up to put the finishing touches on his sermon and I attempted to go back to sleep.  For some reason I couldn’t, so I decided that morning that I would exercise before getting ready for church.  As I went downstairs, I heard a noise coming out of our daughter Alysia’s room.  I opened the door to find her awake, dressed, and perky.  She told me she wanted to go with her dad to the early service and help out in the childcare.  Her perkiness caught me off guard and sending her back to bed seemed a waste, so I said, “Yes.” I went downstairs to exercise and a short time later I heard them say they were leaving.  I had no idea that would be the last time I would hear Fred’s voice, his footsteps…he closed the door for the last time and left.

My younger daughter Cassidy and I headed off to church and as we descended over the hill on the main road in front of the church we saw fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances everywhere.  I couldn’t believe the amount of emergency response vehicles.  In my amazement I told Cassidy that there must have been a car accident at the main entrance of the church.  I was just getting ready to tell her that we should pray, when an ambulance went flying by us.  When it did, I noticed that cars were lined up on the shoulder of the road and in these cars were people I recognized from church.  I was confused as to why these cars weren’t being diverted to the side entrances and gotten off the street.  I was in a line of traffic and as each car inched along, a fire fighter was addressing the cars and telling them what to do.  I was approached by the fire fighter and told that there had been an incident at the church and I needed to pull over; he pointed to a street that ran on the side of the church.  I explained to him that my husband was the pastor and asked if everything was ok, “Ma’am, you need to pull over” was his response.

As I turned on the side street, my cell phone rang.  Calling me was a friend who lived in a completely different part of the state.  She immediately said, “Cindy, Cindy, everything is going to be okay.”  I asked her what she was talking about and after a pause she began praying for me.  As she was praying for me another call came in.  A friend from church and co-worker was calling me, asking if I knew what was going on.  I said that I didn’t, hung up, parked the car and got out.

A car was pulling up behind me and as the lady in the car got out, I asked her if she knew what was going on.   She didn’t answer and started walking towards me.  I looked to the front of the car and two men were walking coming in my direction. The woman said to the men, “She doesn’t know.”  As the three of them surrounded me, their backs were to the church and I got my first good look at the entrance to the church building.  I could tell by the amount of emergency response vehicles pressed up close to the door of the church, that a car accident had not taken place, but something much more serious.

I asked what had happened and they were silent.   I asked again, no response.  I could feel panic and urgency begin to well up within my stomach.  I looked in the face of one of the men standing there.  He was a good friend of ours, someone that Fred and I trusted and respected as a man of integrity.  I directly said to him, “You have to tell me what has happened.”  I will never forget the deep sigh he took and the expression that came over his face before he uttered the words, “Fred’s been shot.”

I was escorted to the hospital down the street.  As soon as I arrived, a helicopter took off and my fear was that Fred had been injured so badly that he had to be airlifted to St. Louis.  We were told that he was still there and I think I took my first breath of relief.

I met with a charge nurse and was told that Fred’s injuries were serious.  Even during this conversation, I never once thought that Fred wasn’t going to be okay, actually the opposite was true; I had confidence that everything was going to be fine.  The nurse asked me if I would like to see Fred and of course I said, “Yes” and took that as a good sign.  In just a few minutes I was escorted to his room.

When I entered, I first saw Fred’s feet and thought how strange it was that they were yellow.  The backs of the emergency room staff were facing me and as I saw them I immediately felt a sense of gratitude for all that they were doing to help Fred, so I verbalized that, and as soon as I did, one of the nurses turned around.  She had tears rolling down her cheeks and she said, “I am so sorry for your loss.”  I felt my heart quicken in pace as I asked, “Sorry?” “Yes” she said, “I am so sorry.”  I choked out the words, “You mean he’s dead?”  “Yes, we just called it.”

A Remarkable Story from a Remarkable Lady

Cindy has been a widow for four years now. She has raised her two girls on her own. And though the struggles are ever present, she has the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ for Fred and for herself. She will see him again.

It is a remarkable book, a remarkable story, and a remarkable author. I hope you get the book and read it. You will be inspired and reminded of the hope of the resurrection for your own life.


  1. Steve Drake says

    Thom, only yesterday I spoke with a woman who had a similar experience. Her husband did not die, but nearly did. He did not suffer from an act of violence but from a terrible heart attack. The similarity is that she was away on a trip and her husband was running so that his identification was in a locker at a gym. Like Cindy, she was unaware her husband was in a perilous situation and no one knew her husband’s identity. Unlike Cindy, her husband is now a picture of health and returns home each day after work. My point is that neither of these situations could have been expected, a preacher sharing God’s love and a runner who was a picture of health. In a moment lives are changed. Nor do we have any assurance that we will return home this day. Our last “I love you” as we left for work this morning could be the last our spouses or children will ever hear from us. Jesus said, “We must do the works of Him who send Me while it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.” While we have today, we should make the best of it.

  2. says

    Thank you for sharing this, Dr. Rainer. I will never be able to understand how people deal with these kinds of losses without Christ. Thankfully, Cindy Winters didn’t have to find out.

  3. says

    I was stationed at Scott Air Force Base just up the road when it happened. A couple of our civilian contractors attended that church so we were able to minister them. It is something I’ve never quite gotten over.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Scott –

      I have the same emotions. I continue to be amazed at the God-given strength Cindy displays.

  4. says

    Thank You Dr. Rainer for this post. My heart was breaking as I read this article. Recently a very dear friend of mine passed away and his wife had to go through a very hard four months as he lay in a hospital bed. Many were believing for a miracle, but it never came. There is an appointed time for us to go home, and no one really can understand the timing on these matters.
    May her testimony encourage other women (and men) who have lost a spouse. May the Lord continue to send strength to this family.

  5. Roland Lundy says

    What a powerful story both of tradegy and comfort from knowing Cindy will see Fred again. Must read the book

  6. says

    When I saw the title of this story, I thought it is fiction. It is when I read it through I realised that I am reading a true story. My sister you pasted what Mary the mother of Jesus passed through, seeing her Son being nailed on the cross. But the third day turned the sad day into a glorious day. He is with the Lord and the ressurection day is coming and we will meet again. You are an encourager to many people in the body of Christ. And this is teaching us to be ready at anytime for we never know when and how we will go. May the good Lord bless you.

  7. says

    I read this account with tears in my eyes. Cindy, God bless you and your children. You are now in my prayers and I will look forward to reading your book soon.

  8. Leslie Espy says

    Thom – Pastor Fred was my pastor all four years of college. He and Cindy allowed me to spend time with their family…I was a regular babysitter for Alysia and Cassidy when they had an event planned. I will never forget where I was when I found out the news, but more than that, I will never forget what a godly example the entire family set for others. Though I haven’t seen them much since that day, Cindy and the girls are always on my mind. And I’m always so thankful for the example of faith and hope that Cindy has set for both her girls and others. Thanks much for posting her story.

  9. Beth Harris says

    Thanks for posting this! My husband John, myself and our daughter Reagan (3 months at the time) was there that morning in view of a call at FBCM! It was a day I will never forget. It has been such a blessing to me to know Cindy and to see her unwavering faith in Christ! She is an amazing woman, mom and friend!

  10. says

    I was actually there in view of a call that day. My wife had decided to come with me because she hit it off with Cindy. Our 4 month old needed to be nursed, so we waited to go in until the end of the service. Otherwise, the plan was for me to be in there, perhaps on the stage at that time.

    You can find more info here:

    Cindy is awesome and she loves The Lord. Buy her book and have all your friends buy it too.

  11. Debbi Reeves says

    With testimonies like these we each need to be prepared to meet the Lord on any day, at any time and to be prepared to walk through the “valley of death” when in comes into our lives. Cindy drew her strength from her Lord during that walk and is still drawing strength from Him. Each day, each one of us MUST take up our cross and walk with it for His Kingdom, for His truth! Jesus Christ walks with us each step of the way, whether it is us or a loved one or a friend walking the path of sorrow. Today I have church members, a husband and wife, going through a huge ordeal. The husband had a brain aneurysm several weeks ago and has been in a coma and yesterday the wife was found unresponsive, at home after a tumor ruptured inside of her. Both are hospitalized and clinging to life. I am praying. That is what I can do. Praying for strength for their daughters and families to walk through this valley. The Lord is walking with them just as He did with Cindy and her family. I know the Lord holds each one of us in the good times and in the bad times. He never leaves us. He loves us.

  12. Paula Koranda says

    I am reading this book now. I also gave a copy to my sister-in-law, also a young widow raising a daughter alone.

  13. Tumpe says

    It is too sad to lose the spouse,I too have a similar story where I lost my lovely husband so suddenly who passed away on December 8th 2012 with terrible heart attack.I am living in Tanzania and by the time my husband was called to heaven I was in Washington for my job trip where I left him with my two kids at the airport on 1st December 2012.It is now six month since he left,I also lose my mother and mother in law after three month, life is not the same again,every second I think of him but the only hope is that I believe in after life so I know for sure that we will be reunited with Christ after this life.

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