Since the death of Pastor Fred Winters last year, Cindy Winters has heard stories from countless individuals regarding how they had found out her husband was shot and where they were.
Winters, herself, shared her story Sunday – one day before the first anniversary of her husband’s death.
“But did you ever wonder where was God on March 8?” posed the widowed mother of two during a special service commemorating her husband’s death.
“God was in that dark room with me. That’s where God was,” Winters later said in recalling the hospital room she waited in immediately following the death of her husband.
Before the congregation of First Baptist Church in Maryville, Ill., Winters shared about the day of her husband’s death and the struggles she encountered thereafter.
She also recalled the moments when she felt the presence of God, who gave her the strength to go on.
“God was … providing us with a sense of peace. And I really believe that God was right next to Fred that day [and] took him home to heaven,” Winters recalled.
On March 8, 2009, 45-year-old Fred Winters was shot through the heart by 27-year-old Terry Sedlacek as he preached to his congregation.
According to eyewitness accounts, the gunman had walked toward Winters during the service and fired at the minister, who tried to evade his shooter. Two men eventually went to subdue Sedlacek after his gun had jammed and were injured by his knife during the struggle.
Sedlacek has since been charged for the first-degree murder of First Baptist’s pastor of 22 years. Though Sedlacek told the judge late last March that he wanted to plead guilty, his attorney entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf – a plea that the judge allowed to stand.
"Not everyone understands the legal implications of a guilty plea. That's why they appoint lawyers," John Rekowski, Sedlacek's public defender, explained after Sedlacek’s outburst.
Last October, Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli deemed Sedlacek mentally unfit to stand trial after receiving the results of Sedlacek’s court-ordered examination, which found the suspect to be schizophrenic and unlikely to be able to assist in his defense.
Sedlacek has since been held in an Illinois Department of Human Services mental health facility, where he is being treated and evaluated.
On Sunday, Cindy Winters avoided talking about the accused shooter but made sure to point to the one she held responsible.
“As I sat there [in the family waiting room], there was a point when God spoke to me,” Winters said, recalling her wait in the “darkest room I’ve ever been in in my entire life.”
“And God said, ‘Cindy, what happened here was sheer evil. And it was orchestrated by Satan.’ And I said out loud – and I could have very well sounded pretty crazy to whoever was in that room at that time, but I said out loud – ‘Then Satan will not win. He will not win,’” Winters recalled.
“And what I was saying there was, with the last ounce of strength that I had, that I was going to find a way to come back from this – that with God’s help and grace in my life, that I would come back. And that moment was so divine for me because it was the very building block that God used to begin putting my life back together again,” she shared.
Since the tragedy, Winters says she and her family have been able to gain a sense of peace and a clearer perspective on their lives.
“Sometimes our focus becomes so set on our circumstances right here and now. [But] there’s something that’s real – more real than here and now and it’s called heaven. It’s called eternity,” she shared.
And while focusing on heaven that doesn’t take away the pain of the “here and now,” it puts things into proper perspective.
“Life can end for any of us without warning. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow or even the rest of today. And no matter how long of a life we are blessed to live, each of us will one day die and have to face our eternal destination,” she said. “All of us are going to have losses in our lives.”
However, Winters continued, there is hope in chaos, there is peace in the middle of a storm, and there is joy in spite of the circumstances.
“I know him (Jesus) and I trust him and that’s made all the difference in my life,” she stated. “A relationship with Jesus is the one thing that makes sense when nothing else does.”
Winters wrapped up her presentation by telling the congregation that while March 8, 2009, was a horrible day for her and for many others, it wasn’t for her husband.
“He is more alive than any of us sitting here, right now in this room,” she stated to the congregation’s applause.
“And one day, I’m going to meet him at the gate of heaven, and it is my hope and my prayer that I’ll meet you there too,” she concluded.