MANATEE -- Bayshore Baptist Church Pastor James "Tripp" Battle was one of three people slain in a triple homicide in Bradenton on Thursday, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
E.W "Karp" Carpenter, a member of Bayshore Baptist since the 1950s, left the church today before 1 pm. He got a call at 3 p.m. that something had happened.
"He was a great pastor" Carpenter said.
Sheriff Brad Steube, who was at the church, said it appeared Battle was killed after suspect Andres "Andy" Avalos' wife Amber and another woman were killed at the Avloses' home in Northwest BRadenton.
Steube said Battle and Andy Avalos met face to face in the church courtyard.
"The pastor saw this coming" Steube said.
Steube indicated a church secretary had also talked to the suspect in an office before the pastor was shot.
Steube said he would not talk about a possible motive.
Carpenter said the pastor had returned to the church shortly after 1 p.m. from visiting a sick person and while walking between two building a man came running at him.
"The pastor's mother told me the man ran up and shot him four times, " Carpenter said.
Andy Avalos remains at large, according to the sheriff's office.
The church congregation grew from 30 to more than 100 under Battle, Carpenter said.
Everyone is shocked, Carpenter said.
"It is not real," Carpenter said.
Church members hugged and wept in each other's arms as the sun cast shadows over the church building.
Linda Stewart and Robin Isom hugged.
"We have to be strong for Joy," Stewart said, referring to Pastor Battle's wife, "I don't know how she will get through this."
The Battles have two young children.
Carpenter said he was decorating the church but had to leave early due to being tired or he would have been near the pastor.
"He was 31 years old and would give you shirt off his back. It will take me days to get over this. He was in the prime of his life," Carpenter said. "Tripp was bubbly. He loved people."