Athens man arrested, accused of trying to pull a gun at local church

LIMESTONE COUNTY, Ala. --  Authorities arrested an Athens man after police say he attempted to pull a gun from its holster during a church service Sunday.

Deputies said it happened while Thomas Zebulun Lewter, 34, was speaking at the pulpit during a service at O’Neal Church of Christ. He is charged with making a terrorist threat.

The church nestled in a quiet Limestone County community, the only real noise being made Monday afternoon? The hum of a lawnmower.
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"It's a little scary being this close," neighbor Bill Morrow said.

People who live in the area say this is a safe place and they can't believe this happened.

"You really don't expect to see or hear about a church especially one right here in your back door," Morrow said.

A former church member, Vicki Linley was visiting her mother's grave Monday.

"This church is the sweetest church ever. I mean my mother went here 72 years," she said.

she says what happened Sunday was heartbreaking.

Stephen Young, Public Information Officer with the Limestone County Sheriff's Office, said Lewter approached the pulpit during the service and began to speak about his pending divorce, calling out his wife and father-in-law who were present in the service.

According to authorities, congregants approached the pulpit and tried to convince Lewter to stop talking and sit down, but he refused. That's when deputies say Lewter attempted to grab his handgun. Deputies say congregants tackled and restrained him.

A retired Limestone County Sheriff’s deputy who was present assisted, Young said, and handcuffed Lewter while they waited for deputies to arrive.

A judge granted for Lewter's wife, Kathryn Lewter a protection order. The affidavit portion describes an account of the events.

It says Thomas Lewter approached the pulpit and announced he was sorry he was going to do what he had to do.

Before he was restrained he made threats to his wife and her father,  blaming them for their divorce.

It also says he feared for her safety before the incident on Sunday occurred.

Authorities took Lewter to Athens-Limestone Hospital for evaluation before booking him into the Limestone County Jail.

Monday a judge handed Lewter at $50,000 bond. His bond conditions include not going onto church property, not to go near his wife and to surrender his firearms.

The church sent a statement to WHNT News 19. It reads as follows:

From the Elders of O’Neal Church of Christ. We had an unfortunate event on July 8 that by the quick actions of members of the congregation we were able to resolve with no physical injuries. We continued our worship and with the grace of God will continue to worship as normal. We ask for your prayers for our congregation and all families involved as we move forward. We thank everyone for the outpouring of love, concern, and prayers. Let us help these families to heal by allowing them their privacy. Thank you in Christian Love, O’Neal Church of Christ