Attention Please


[Note: This news, as you might suspect, particularly caught my attention. I feel helpless about it right now, but I wish there was something I could do.]

Amber Alert issued for children of slain Weststate pastor
Staff Writer

A statewide “Amber Alert” has been issued for three little girls from southwest Tennessee whose father was found slain in the family’s home last night.The three Winkler girls are from Selmer, Tenn., and may be with their mother, Mary Winkler, according to the alert statement put out this morning by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Their father was identified by the Associated Press this morning as Matthew Winkler, 31, the pastor of Selmer’s Fourth Street Church of Christ. The girls, who are all Caucasian, are:
+ Breanna Winkler, one year old.
+Mary Alice Winkler, age 6, is three feet tall, weighs about 40 pounds, and has dark brown hair and dark eyes.
+ Patricia Winkler, age 8, is four feet tall with dark brown hair and weighs about 60 pounds.

Their mother, Mary Winkler, is 32. She is 5-feet, 3-inches tall and weighs 120-125 pounds.

“We’re just really puzzled,” Selmer Police Chief Neal Burks told the AP. “We need to talk to her.” The group is believed to be traveling in a gray 2006 Toyota Sienna van bearing Tennessee license plate NDX288. The girls’ father was found slain in their Selmer home, which the AP described as the church parsonage around 9:20 p.m. yesterday, the TBI said. His body was found by members of the family’s church after the Winklers failed to show up for services, the TBI wrote. The girls and their mother were last seen at around 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Anyone who spots the van or the mother or the Winkler children should contact the Selmer Police Department at 731-645-7906 or call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.

7 Responses to “Attention Please”

  1. Whitney Says:

    Al, do you know this family? I saw the story literally seconds before I got your e-mail. It’s just awful. If you hear more, please keep us informed.

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I don’t know them, but when I sent the press release out to my hurricane list, some of the folks from Pennsylvania who came and worked here said they went to Freed-Hardeman with both of them. They were completely shocked.

    That’s all I know for now. “The Christian Chronicle” just sent out a press release about it and said they would post updates, too.

    I know things like this happen often, but when something connects you to one of the events, it kind of leaves you gasping for breath.

  3. Capt MidKnight Says:

    As you can imagine, this is a lead story here in the Nashville/Middle Tennessee area as well as in West Tennessee.
    I just checked the Christian Chronicle web site and there are no more updates (3:50pm CST).
    There are a great many unanswered question, and, any way it comes out, it is bound to be a tragic story. Lets pray that the wife and little girls are found safe.

    Capt. MidKnight

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Update this morning:

    SELMER, Tenn. (AP) – A popular and charismatic Tennessee minister was found shot to death in his parsonage, and his wife and three young daughters were found safe in Alabama on Thursday after a daylong search.

    Church members went looking for 31-year-old Matthew Winkler when he did not show up for an evening service at the Fourth Street Church of Christ. They used a key to enter the parsonage and found him dead in a bedroom late Wednesday, Police Chief Neal Burks said. Winkler’s family was gone, along with their minivan.

    There were no signs of forced entry at the parsonage, authorities said.

    The other family members were found Thursday night in southern Alabama when a police officer saw their van parked along a road and pulled over to help.

    Authorities said they were alone in the van.

    Winkler’s wife, Mary, “hasn’t been arrested,” said Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson. “We want to talk to her and find out what she knows” about the slaying of her husband.

    The bureau issued an Amber Alert early Thursday for the couple’s daughters, Breanna, 1; Mary Alice, 6; and Patricia, 8. The alert said the girls might be with their mother.

    All were in good physical condition when they were found in Orange Beach, Ala., about 400 miles south of Selmer.

    Johnson said investigators had learned about 1 1/2 hours before the family members were found that they might be in southern Alabama or the Florida Panhandle.

    Mary Winkler had last been seen late Tuesday afternoon picking up the children from school, said Ed Jones, TBI assistant director. Burks said she worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary school.

    “We’re just so relieved that the kids were found safe and now we can focus on the next task” of solving the crime, Johnson said.

    Tracy Stewart, city clerk in Selmer, said city investigators plan to go to Alabama to interview the family.

    Matthew Winkler was hired as minister in February 2005, said Wilburn Ash, an elder at the 200-member church in Selmer, a town of about 4,600 in western Tennessee. The job was Winkler’s first full-time position after working as a youth minister at another church.

    Ash said he never saw any conflict in the family.

    “He seemed like he was real happy here, and we were happy with him,” Ash said. “He preached the Bible. He didn’t make his opinions known on what was popular or what was politically right. He just preached the Bible.”

    Former Mayor Jimmy Whittington said he worked with the minister collecting donations for hurricane victims last year. “They were a nice family,” he said. “They just blended in.”

    Matthew Winkler’s grandfather had a 60-year-career as an evangelist in four Southern states, and his father is a minister and adjunct professor at the Church of Christ-affiliated Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson.

    He was serving his first full pastorship in Selmer after working as a youth minister at a church in McMinnville, church members said.

    Members of the congregation gathered Thursday inside the one-story brick church. “We’re just trying to console each other,” Ash said.

    Pam Killingsworth, a church member and assistant principal at Selmer Elementary, where the Winkler children went to her school, said: “I can’t believe this would happen.”

    “The kids are just precious, and she was precious,” Killingsworth said, her eyes red from crying and her voice cracking at times. “He was the one of the best ministers we’ve ever had – just super charisma.”

  5. Sandi Says:


    Certainly this is a tragic story. I will be interested to find out what exactly happened here. Women murdering their husbands is comparatively rare. Things like this always make me think, because you wonder how people get to the point of killing or being killed by someone that they love. I especially feel sorry for those girls. Essentially, they’ve lost both their parents in a way that will always haunt them.

  6. Sandi Says:

    Well, here’s part of the answer on motive:

    Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent John Mehr said authorities know the motive for the killing, but he would not disclose it. When asked whether police believed the motive was infidelity, Mehr said no. But he would not comment when asked whether Mary Winkler had accused her husband of abuse. Court papers offered no hint of a motive.

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Weird, huh?

    I can’t imagine any possible motive that ends up looking “good” on any front.

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