Alabama pastor dies by suicide after report exposes online transgender persona

The late Mayor of Smiths Station, Alabama, F.L. ''Bubba'' Copeland
The late Mayor of Smiths Station, Alabama, F.L. ''Bubba'' Copeland | Youtube/Beam 7

An Alabama pastor and mayor died by suicide two days after addressing his church regarding a news report about his online transgender persona.

F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, the mayor of Smiths Station and pastor of First Baptist Church of Phenix City, shot himself Friday afternoon as sheriff’s deputies were in slow pursuit of his vehicle following calls for a welfare check around 4:15 p.m., the Lee County Sherrif’s Office announced. 

While being pursued, the mayor pulled over onto Lee Road 275. Officials say he exited the vehicle and shot himself with a handgun.

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“The deputies pursued the vehicle at low speed to a point on Lee Road 275 near Lee Road 279 where the vehicle stopped at 4:34 P.M. central standard time,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said, according to CNAW 2 News

In a statement, First Baptist Church of Phenix City asked people to keep Copeland's family in their prayers in the days ahead. 

"We greatly appreciate your messages, comments, and encouragement. Please continue to pray for us as we move forward in sharing God’s love too all people," a Saturday post on the church's Facebook page reads. 

A cross has been placed on the church lawn for those seeking place flowers and memorials in remembrance. 

On Wednesday, Copeland took to the pulpit to address his church after 1819 News, a news outlet launched by the conservative think tank the Alabama Policy Institute, reported on photos from several social media accounts operated by Copeland where he reportedly presented himself as a transgender woman named Brittini Blaire Summerlin. 

In some photos, he is seen wearing his wife’s clothing and a blonde wig. The outlet reported that Copeland also posted transgender pornography and pornographic sex stories. 

1819 News acknowledged Copeland’s death, writing in an update that “Our prayers are with the residents of Smiths Station, the parishioners of First Baptist Church of Phenix City and Copeland's family.”

During his Wednesday evening address to his congregation, Copeland insisted that the report would not cause his life to change and that he had “nothing to be ashamed of.” 

"The article is not who or what I am. Yes, I have taken pictures with my wife in the privacy of our home on an attempt of humor because I know I'm not a handsome man, nor a beautiful woman either,” Copeland said. “I apologize for any embarrassment caused by my private personal life that has gone publicly.”

In a statement published by The Alabama Baptist Thursday, leaders of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions said they became aware of “alleged unbiblical behavior” related to the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Phenix City. 

“We are praying for the leaders of the church family as they seek to determine the truth concerning these accusations,” the statement reads. “As the people of God, we pray for the pastor and his family as well. We are in consultation with the Russell Baptist Association’s leadership as they endeavor to assist the First Baptist family during this critical time of need.”

Copeland has lived in the Smiths Station area for most of his life and attended Smiths Station High School. According to his online bio, he obtained a hotel and restaurant management degree from Auburn University. He served on the Lee County Board of Education for 11 years before becoming Smiths Station mayor in 2016. Smiths Station has a population of under 7,000. 

In addition to his roles as pastor and mayor, Copeland owned and operated the Country Market in Salem. 

Cam Ward, director of Alabama Pardons and Paroles, wrote on social media that Copeland’s death is “so incredibly sad.” 

“We live in a society where many people are going through so much,” Ward tweeted. “Regardless of decisions we may disagree with we should always love our fellow man as the Bible teaches us. I know first hand. A lot of folks reading his story should look in the mirror.”

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