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Beloved Pa. pastor committed suicide by jumping to his death, coroner rules

Beloved Pa. pastor committed suicide by jumping to his death, coroner rules

The late Pastor John R. Garner, 64, of the West Providence Bible Baptist Church in Everett, Pa. | Screenshot: WJAC

After a four-month probe into what officials initially thought was a hit-and-run murder, authorities now say a beloved Pennsylvania pastor and husband made a “significant jump” to his death from a building after decades of passionately serving the Lord.

“We saw injuries that could not be caused by a hit-and-run,” Blair County Coroner Patty Ross told the Altoona Mirror Tuesday in explaining that Pastor John R. Garner, 64, of the West Providence Bible Baptist Church in Everett, took his own life in April.

“This is what we do. If we find something that isn’t that sure, we do something else,” the coroner explained. “It is ruled a suicide.” 

Authorities say the pastor’s body was found in the parking lot of a shuttered Bickel’s Surplus store on Nason Drive in Roaring Spring, early morning on April 18.

Garner had been treated for a cut on his arm during the evening of April 17 at the Conemaugh Nason Hospital located close to the store. He was reportedly released from the hospital at about 6:30 p.m. and his wife Joyce was supposed to pick him up.

Due to a miscommunication, said Ross, Garner ended up walking toward busy Route 36 to await his wife. Investigators initially thought he was struck by a vehicle there. 

In Garner’s obituary, published by Akers Funeral Home in Everett, the late longtime pastor who left behind a wife, four children and grandchildren was remembered for how passionately he lived life and loved God.

“John was a very humble, kind man that loved the Lord Jesus Christ with all his heart and soul, and was not afraid to tell anyone about Jesus, and how to receive Him as their Savior. He especially liked winning other men to Jesus Christ, and stirring them up to do something with their life for Jesus,” the obituary said.

“He was a bold, unashamed witness for Jesus to anyone and everyone. He would stand on the street corner and preach about Jesus while holding up his King James Bible, pleading for those listening to come unto Jesus and receive Him as their Savior and Lord. He cared for men’s souls, whether they were going to heaven or hell upon death. He loved to make people laugh and tell funny, unusual, true stories about life.”

He was described as a strong family man.

“As a husband, John was every woman’s dream of a perfect, wonderful, loving and caring man. He cherished his wife, protected her at all times, gave of himself to make her happy, prayed for her daily, and had true affection and love for her. He was always buying her flowers and cards, and telling her all kinds of funny stories to make her laugh. He was never too tired to read her the Bible and pray with her,” it said.

Despite the ruling on Garner’s death by officials, Cliff Williams, who said Garner was his pastor, refused to accept it.

“This man was my pastor, he was not suicidal, I think someone is trying to cover up something,” he wrote in the comments section of the story.

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