BRADENTON, Fla. — Sheriff’s deputies have found a gold SUV driven by a 33-year-old man suspected of killing his wife, a neighbor and the pastor of the church where his wife worked.
The vehicle was found abandoned in a Wal-Mart parking lot on Friday morning near Bradenton, 45 miles south of Tampa. Authorities say Andres “Andy” Avalos is on the loose.
The killing spree started Thursday afternoon. Investigators were called to the Bayshore Baptist Church, where pastor James “Tripp” Battle was found dead in the courtyard. While investigating, they learned there could be two other deaths in a house in Bradenton. There they found 33-year-old Amber Avalos and neighbor, 45-year-old Denise Potter.
Officials say they don’t know exactly what happened but that Avalos is considered dangerous.
Andy and Amber Avalos have six children. They’re in the custody of a relative.
Authorities in Florida were searching Friday for a 33-year-old man suspected of killing his wife and another woman before going to the church where his wife worked and fatally shooting the pastor.
The killing spree started Thursday afternoon in Bradenton, which is about 45 miles south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Investigators with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said 33-year-old Andres “Andy” Avalos was last seen near the Bayshore Baptist Church driving a gold-colored Chevrolet Suburban.
Deputies were called to the church about 1:30 p.m. Thursday. They found James “Tripp” Battle dead in the church courtyard.
A witness at the scene told deputies about the other two victims. Deputies then found the bodies of Amber Avalos, 33, and neighbor Denise Potter, 45, at a home in Bradenton.
“We don’t know exactly what transpired,” said sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.
Andy and Amber Avalos have six children. Deputies said the children were in the custody of a relative.
The Bayshore Baptist website said that Andy Avalos’ father also is a minister. It says Battle and his wife, Joy, who is the church’s secretary, have a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son.
“We have to be strong for Joy,” church member Linda Stewart was quoted by the Bradenton Herald as saying. “I don’t know how she will get through this.”
E.W “Karp” Carpenter, a member of the church since the 1950s, told the newspaper that Battle “was a great pastor,” and that the church’s congregation grew from 30 to more than 100 under his stewardship.
“He was 31 years old and would give you shirt off his back,” Carpenter said.
Sheriff Brad Steube said Battle and Avalos met face-to-face in the church courtyard shortly before the shooting.
“The pastor saw this coming,” he told the newspaper.
Jane Riley, a neighbor of the Avalos family, told The Associated Press that the neighborhood near the Manatee River is “like the sweetest little community,” although she did point out that in 2008, a previous tenant of the Avaloses’ home was slain during a home invasion.
“Now I’m scared,” said Riley. “I have an alarm system, but is that enough? I hope the cops hang around for a while.”
Investigators say Avalos should be considered dangerous. Anyone who sees him should call police.