Church says God will hold Pa. gunman accountable

The Associated Press

FOREST HILLS, Pa. – If prayers were said Sunday for the soul of the gunman who killed three women at a Pennsylvania health club, they were not by the parishioners of a church where he apparently sat quietly for many years: Tetelestai Church doesn’t pray for the dead.

“We pray for the living — the victims and the family of George Sodini,” said Chuck Matone, a senior deacon.

And Sodini? “God will hold him accountable. God has his justice.”

Sodini’s name wasn’t even mentioned during the service, held in the auditorium of Trinity Christian School in Forest Hills. But John Dorohovich, an associate pastor, referred to the LA Fitness club shooter’s long-seething rage indirectly, urging the faithful to reject “the bitterness and the gall and man’s frantic search for happiness.”

“When you seek that over the word of God, that brings upon you a lifestyle of misery,” he said. “And then you want to take it out on others.”

Sodini shot and killed Elizabeth Gannon, Heidi Overmier and Jody Billingsley and wounded nine others Tuesday night in Bridgeville before killing himself.

Church records suggest Sodini last attended services about five years ago. He signed an enrollment card in March 2004 but was removed form the congregation sometime later for harassing a woman, Matone said.

Sodini’s misery was apparent in his rambling, hate-filled blog, in which he complained of a nonexistent sex life, years of rejection by women and social isolation. Among those he blamed for his perceived troubles were his family and Tetelestai’s longtime pastor, Alan “Rick” Knapp, whose teachings he interpreted as assurance he would go to heaven even after committing murder.

“This guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder, then still go to heaven,” he wrote.

Knapp, who left town Saturday to care for his critically ill father in Florida, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday that “the message of the word I preach never reflected such a thing.”

Matone described Knapp as “really broken this week” and said he has struggled to comprehend Sodini’s thinking.

“He just had an authority problem all his life,” Matone concludes from Sodini’s blog. “Everything and everyone was against him.”

Neither Matone nor Knapp recalled ever meeting Sodini at Tetelestai, which is Greek for “It is finished.” The church is nondenominational and focuses on Bible study and teaching.

Deacon Jack Rickard had invited Sodini to his home for dinner, but he never sensed his anger.

“I never saw anything out of the ordinary with him. He had his idiosyncrasies, but who doesn’t?” Rickard said.

Personally, though, Rickard believes Sodini is in heaven.

“We believe in permanent security — once saved, always saved,” Rickard said. “He will be judged, but he will be in heaven. … He’ll be in heaven, but he won’t have any rewards because he did evil.”

The sermon, however, avoided addressing the fate of Sodini’s soul.

“You are accountable and you are responsible for what you do,” Dorohovich told the congregation. “God knows the motives of all men’s hearts, and as my pastor said Friday night, we will give account for all that is done in this body.”

Matone also sidestepped the issue: “Is he in heaven? Only God and he know.”

But the church leadership says one thing is clear: Sodini alone is responsible for the pain he has caused.

“There’s absolutely no guilt on the part of anyone in this ministry,” Matone said. “What he did, he did on his own.”