Murder suspect arrested near Tampa Bay church after father's plea

by Joni B. Hannigan |

BRADENTON, Fla. (Christian Examiner) -- Authorities announced the arrest Saturday afternoon of Andrés "Andy" Avalos, who shot James "Tripp" Battle III, wife Amber Avalos, 32, and her friend and neighbor Denise Potter, 46, the mother of three.

Andy Avalos Jr., 33, was arrested shortly before 4 p.m. EST at the Pine Haven Mobile Home Park, about two blocks from the church, according to authorities.

Avalos killed Pastor Battle Thursday in the courtyard of Bayshore Baptist Church in Bradenton. Then Avalos went home where he and his wife live with their six children -- that is where authorities found the bodies of the two women.

On Friday the fathers of both the murdered man and the murderer spoke to reporters.

"Our faith in God will get us through, and our Christian friends," Jimmy Battle, 68, father of the 31-year-old pastor, told the Bradenton Herald.

Meanwhile, Andrés Avalos Sr., who leads a Spanish speaking service for Woodland Community Church in Bradenton, had publicly pleaded with his son to turn himself in to authorities -- for the sake of his six children.

"For their sake, I am pleading with you to turn yourself in," Avalos Sr. said, according to TBO.com news. "They don't understand what's happening. They're hurting and they feel alone.

Jimmy Battle said he knew the younger Avalos well. Amber Avalos was a member of Bayshore Baptist Church and the nursery and children's director -- and Tripp Battle, according to news reports, had asked his father to hire Andy to complete some work for him.

In a 30-minute interview with the Herald, the Battles poured out their hearts, but stopped short of talking about rumored drug or marital difficulties that Andy Avalos had.

Instead, they focused their talk on their son Tripp's many ministry accomplishments, his "big Teddy Bear" personality and the love he had for everyone. A Tampa Bay area native, he was a youth pastor in Alabama and a graduate of the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville. He played college football at Dana College in Nebraska before being sidelined by a shoulder injury and wound up back in his hometown at Teen Challenge, a counseling and rehabilitation program after being addicted to pain medication.

A member of the church, Judy Smith, told the Herald that Battle preached directly from the Bible and wasn't "an entertainment preacher."

Another member, Frank Zaken, said Battle helped grow Bayshore Baptist Church from about 30 to 125 members in the 18 months since he was called to serve there.

"We felt so blessed that we would have them here," Jimmy Battle had earlier told the Tampa Bay Times.

In that same interview, Jimmy Battle said Andy Avalos began to get "wild notions about every man that walked by" his wife.

"He was incoherent most all the time," Jimmy Battle said. "He always thought people were trying to do something they weren't."

Tripp Battle is survived by his wife, Joy, and 6-year-old daughter, Sophie, and 3-year-old son, Joshua. Joy's father, Keith Johnson, is the executive pastor at Wayside Baptist Church in Miami.

ANDY AVALOS FAMILY

A family member of Amber Avalos' told the media that Andy Avalos had been "acting strange" recently, but that Amber had pledged to keep praying and said she wanted to keep her "family together and God is going to fix us."

"Something like drugs can break a family this bad," said Deanna Freniere, Amber's sister, declaring publicly she did not know where the man was or what he was "going through."

"I hope to God you realize what you have done to your family and how dare you not think of the six kids you have the future they are going to have now. I pray you come out of hiding and give yourself up," she said, echoing the wishes that his father made earlier.

The six Avalos children, ranging in age from 4 to 15 were in protective custody while deputies continued to search for their father. The three youngest children have not been told what has happened to their mother, according to media reports, while the three older have.

Christian Examiner is researching information about the Potter family.

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