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Church responds to stabbing with prayer


St. Paul United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., was the site of an attack on church secretary Vickie Jo Mueller, who was stabbed and robbed in her office May 22. A UMNS photo courtesy of Georgianna Sutton.

A UMNS Report
By Heather Hahn*
May 27, 2009 | LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS)

United Methodists in northeast Arkansas came together in prayer after a church secretary was stabbed and robbed in her office.

The pastor and church members rushed to the hospital after Vickie Jo Mueller, 52, was stabbed twice in the chest and twice in the abdomen May 22 by a man who came into the office of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Jonesboro asking for gas money.

And that night about 180 people — including pastors and members of other area United Methodist churches — gathered at St. Paul to pray some more. Mueller’s husband, Bill, and daughter Dena, a sophomore at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, also were there.

By May 26, Mueller’s vital signs were stable and she was in fair condition at the city’s St. Bernards Medical Center.

God was present even in this brutal act, said the Rev. Beth Waldrup, St. Paul’s senior pastor, who got a catch in her voice as she recounted what happened to her friend and co-worker.

“Jo shouldn’t be here with us,” Waldrup said. “The surgeon said there were three wounds that should have killed her. You can see God at work in her being here, and you can see God at work in the way this church has come together.”

Heroic effort

Mueller was alone in the office, printing Sunday bulletins, at around 10:30 a.m. May 22 when a man came in asking for gas money, Waldrup said.

Mueller told the man the church did not provide that service. He then asked to use the church bathroom, and she pointed the way to the men’s room. He went into the bathroom for a moment, came out and attacked Mueller from behind. After stabbing Mueller, the man grabbed her purse and bolted out the door, Waldrup said. 

Despite her injuries, Mueller was able to drag herself to the phone and call 911. Just as emergency workers were loading Mueller into an ambulance, an altar guild member drove by the church and started calling church leaders including Waldrup, who is off on Fridays. Waldrup and church members joined Mueller’s family at the hospital to wait and pray.

“We’re all still kind of in shock,” Waldrup said. “But she told me, ‘Beth, it’s going to be OK. I have faith.’”

According to the Jonesboro Sun, police arrested a suspect in the crime the afternoon of May 22. Roy “Ray” Lee Anthony, 47, of Forrest City, Ark., is accused of first-degree battery, aggravated robbery and fraudulent use of a credit card, the newspaper reported. He also is a suspect in several other robberies in this eastern Arkansas city.

The church responds

As the police tracked down the suspect, St. Paul’s congregation and other area United Methodists mobilized to show support for the Muellers and provide them with food.

Church member Linda Graham helped organize a prayer service for the Muellers that night at the church. Graham is a school psychologist and member of the county’s crisis response team.

For her, the assault brought back memories of another act of violence. Graham was among the crisis counselors on the scene after two students fatally shot four students and a teacher at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro in 1998.

“Both acts were violations,” she said. “A school and a church are both supposed to be safe. The prayer vigil was a really good thing because you have to reclaim your turf.”

Graham said she was particularly touched when those gathered sang the hymn “I am Standing on Hallowed Ground.”

David Sutton, who also helped plan the Friday night service, has long known the Muellers.

“Jo is a very strong woman and very inspirational in her love for her family and her dedication to the church,” Sutton said. “To have the fortitude to know what she needed to do [even after the attack] is just amazing to me.”

Waldrup said the church is currently re-examining its safety procedures. She wants St. Paul to continue to be a sanctuary and not become a fortress. She also wants other churches to take precautions.

“You think it can’t happen to you, but it can,” she said.

*Hahn is editor of the Arkansas United Methodist.

News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Arkansas Annual Conference

Jonesboro Sun

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