Minister Slain

The Choctaw County Sheriff's Department, Alabama Bureau of Investigations and Department of Forensic Science are working together to investigate the shooting death of 46-year-old Reverend John Mark Hartzog.

Shortly after 11 p.m. Friday night Hartzog was found shot to death in his office at Stafford Full Gospel Church in the Pleasant Hill Community. We were told that earlier that evening he had been at the church mowing grass and was discovered by his wife who returned to the church to check on him.

With no preliminary evidence of robbery or forced entry into the church, family and friends of Reverend Hartzog are still in shock.

"He was a very caring and helpful person. He worked a lot with the youth of the community," said Elaine Smith, Hartzog's cousin.

"He was a wonderful person," said Susie Stafford, Hartzog's aunt and church member. "He loved people and he loved life. All of us are just out of sorts about this!"

Ironically, family members say just last Sunday in his sermon Reverend Hartzog talked about how fortunate parishioners in this country are to be able to attend church without fear of being harmed. Less than a week later he was gunned down here at the same place where he delivered that message.

A preliminary investigation shows Reverend Hartzog died from multiple gunshot wounds, possibly from a handgun. Although many rumors have been circulating throughout the community about the circumstances surrounding the murder, investigators say they still do not have motive and therefore have made no arrests.

Meanwhile, church members say they will continue to have services at the church while anxiously awaiting the arrest of the person or persons responsible.