Wells pastor to preach at serial killer’s funeral

Published: Dec. 5, 2012 at 5:35 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 5, 2012 at 10:42 PM CST
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Elder Jacob Gardner. Source: ChurchofWells.com
Elder Jacob Gardner. Source: ChurchofWells.com
Israel Keyes
Israel Keyes
Samantha Koenig (Source: Koenig family)
Samantha Koenig (Source: Koenig family)

WELLS, TX (KTRE) - A pastor at the Church of Wells said he will be preaching at the funeral of a man who was arrested in Lufkin after killing an Alaska barista.

Israel Keyes, 34, died Sunday in an Anchorage jail cell in an apparent suicide.

Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday that Keyes killed himself after cutting a wrist and using bedding material to strangle himself, according to an article from The Associated Press.

The pastor, Jacob Gardner, confirmed that Keyes' mother and his sisters are members of the church, and Keyes had visited them on a few occasions, right after he committed his latest crimes. The pastor did not divulge the names of the mother or sisters.

The FBI says Keyes told authorities he dismembered the body of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig after he returned from a two week cruise. The FBI said he disposed of her body in a frozen lake north of Anchorage.

Texas DPS troopers arrested Keyes in March in the parking lot of the Cotton Patch in Lufkin.

FBI investigators said Keyes admitted to killing at least seven other people across the country over the past decade.

Gardner said Keyes visited his family, before they had moved to Wells, after Keyes killed Bill and Lorraine Currier of Essex, Vt. The couple disappeared in June 2011.

Gardner said Keyes visited again after a bank robbery. He then visited his family when they were living in Indiana. Keyes' mother and sister then relocated to Wells with the rest of the church.

Keyes visited Wells in March to attend his sister's wedding, who married one of the brothers of the Church of Wells. Gardner said Keyes heavily defended his atheism. Keyes was arrested the next day in Lufkin.

"He stayed with us for multiple days during this time, obviously this was towards the end of the line after the death of Samantha Koenig and after all of those things," Gardner said. "Even at the wedding the Lord pled with  him and pled with him and in the midst of it all he wept and broke down weeping, balling, even wailing, but he would not repent."

"He said not 'everybody has morals like you' to one of the pastors in the church, 'not everybody has your morals' with an undertone of hate and murder in his heart," Gardner said.

The Church made headlines in May after a family, who was part of the church, waited 15 hours to call for emergency care after their three-day-old infant, Faith Pursley, died.

Deputies, EMS and investigators responded to the Wells Manor Apartments on Wright Patman Drive and found the infant in a bassinet next to the bed in the master bedroom of the apartment. The mother, father and several adults, who identified themselves as elders of the church, were present and cooperated with investigators when they arrived.

The case involving the baby's death has been turned over to the Cherokee County District Attorney's Office for possible criminal charges.

Troopers say the state medical examiner hasn't determined what injury was the primary cause of  Keyes' death.
Keyes was found dead in his cell Sunday morning. Blood-soaked papers that appeared to have writing on them also were found, and have been turned over to the FBI.

"What Israel was doing for those 10, 14 years however long that these crimes were taking place as he was seeking to save his life, seeking to save his life as he's running from the law," Gardner said. "We are not glad Israel Keyes is in hell, we believe he is, but we are not glad at that because God sent  him to this church multiple times seeking to plead with this man, even saved his own relatives, 3 of his sister and his own mother."

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