Slain pastor’s wife, three daughters found safe in Gulf Coast city

SELMER – A Selmer pastor’s wife and three children have been found safe in Orange Beach, Ala., authorities said tonight, ending an Amber Alert issued after the pastor was found shot to death in his parsonage last night and the family missing.

The town where they were found is just off the Gulf of Mexico, almost 400 miles from the family Selmer home. The Amber Alert was cancelled about 7:45 p.m. No other details were immediately available.

Matthew Brian Winkler, 31, was found dead in a bedroom of the family’s home on Mollie Drive, which was the parsonage for the Fourth Street Church of Christ. A church member said Winkler appeared to have been shot in the back, though police would not comment on his injuries.

Police would not say whether Winkler’s wife, Mary, is a suspect. She was initially believed to be with the children and it was unclear if the family was abducted. The family was believed to be traveling in a 2006 Toyota Sienna Van, dark gray in color, with Tennessee License Plate NDX288.

The alert was issued for Winkler’s three children and his wife after church members found him slain in the family’s home Wednesday night around 9:22 p.m. Parishioners went searching for the family after they failed to arrive for evening services. The children and mother were last seen on Tuesday, at approximately 5:45 p.m.

Police were searching for 1-year-old Breanna Winkler, 6-year-old Mary Alice Winkler; 8-year-old Patricia Winkler; 32-year-old Mary Winkler.

TBI spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said there were no signs of forced entry at the parsonage.

Mary Winkler and her children were last seen late Tuesday afternoon, picking up the children from school, Ed Jones, TBI assistant director, told the Associated Press. Burks said Mrs. Winkler had worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary school that day.

The couple had lived in Selmer for about a year, he said.

Linda Ashe, whose husband is a church elder, said that Winkler had told her he had a gun that he kept in the home but used only for turkey hunting.

Winkler moved to Selmer from McMinnville, about 65 miles southeast of Nashville, where he served as a youth minister, Ashe said.

When church member Sharon Pinckley of Chester County and her husband heard the news of his death at 5:30 this morning, the couple went to the church, which has about 250 members.

Winkler had ministered for the congregation for more than a year, Pinckley said. She described him as an energetic man in his mid-30s who “had a really true concern about saving people’s souls and inspiring people to rethink their habits.”

Pinckley recalled how Winkler’s mission trip to Mexico was delayed by Hurricane Rita. The group, including Pinckley, were stuck in McAllen, Texas, but Winkler was determined to help somehow.

“He was looking for another way to serve since we were all there with a purpose,” she said.

Winkler managed to locate an area in town where the local government had dropped a large pile of sand for residents to reinforce their homes from flooding. Pinckley said Winkler led the help there.

Winkler’s two eldest daughters attended Bible class with their mother, who taught the class to 2- and 3-year-olds, Pinckley said.

Anyone with information should contact the TBI at (731) 984-6600 or their local law enforcement agency.

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The Jackson Sun, USA
Mar. 23, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday March 23, 2006.
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