BRADENTON, Fla. (Christian Examiner) -- A Southern Baptist pastor was killled in a triple homicide in the Tampa Bay area Dec. 4, which also took the life of the church's nursery director and her friend. The suspected shooter is still loose.
James "Tripp" Battle, 31, lead pastor of Bayshore Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida, was found shot to death in a residence at the church, according to news reports.
Deputies continue early Friday morning to search for Andres "Andy" Avalos, 33, husband of another of the victims, Amber Avalos, 32, whose body was found in her home, away from the church property, along with that of Denise Potter, 46, the Avalos' friend.
Battle, a Bradenton native, is survived by his wife, Joy, and two young children, Sophie and Joshua. Joy Battle is the daughter of Keith Johnson, executive pastor of Wayside Baptist Church in Miami, according to James Peoples, president of the Florida Baptist Convention.
Andy Avalos Jr. father, Andy Avalos Sr., leads Spanish worship for a ministry of Woodland Community Church in Bradenton, Peoples said, and was estranged from his wife who was a member of Bayshore Baptist, and also served on its staff, directing the nursery and children's departments. She had six children.
"There are so many connections here," Peoples told Christian Examiner.
WFLA reported the church's former pastor Ron Hazlette said the church grew under Battle's leadership.
"Tripp brought a new dimension to the church. His youth, he had some things in his background that allowed him to identify and save people that he was able to reach for the Lord."
Throughout Thursday, people responded to Twitter and Facebook postings about Battle's death – sharing memories and noting shock, anger and grief.
Just weeks ago, Peoples said, Battle, a graduate of the Baptist College of Florida at Graceville, was at the Florida Baptist Convention annual meeting in Lakeland -- spending time with church planters and other leaders with whom he had made connections throughout his near decade of ministry.
"This is just heartbreaking," Peoples said. "This is just another example of how the actions of one can affect so many people, and more evidence that this is a broken world and Jesus is the only answer.
"We need to continue to pray for the many who are hurting," Peoples said.
An area pastor agreed, and speculated that it would be hard to imagine how to approach such an issue without the body of Christ united in prayer.
Ken Whitten, senior pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church near Tampa, told the Examiner pastors "can only imagine" what it would be like to minister in such circumstances.
"What makes this so tragic is the one who is so needed to minister to the family is one of the victims of this dark tragedy," he continued. "Left behind are broken hearts, broken families, unanswered questions and a world looking on with great confusion."
Speaking to the victims' families and members of Bayshore Baptist, Whitten expressed "prayers and heartfelt condolences."
"In the body of Christ when one of our members hurt, we all hurt," he said. "Our hearts are broken and we stand ready to help in any way this great church needs help."
"One thing all of us can do is pray," Whitten said. "Even our Lord said in John 12: 27, 'Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say, ... Father glorify your name.' When we don't know what to say, we can always pray, 'Father, glorify your name.'"