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'Once saved, always saved' — Deacon says killer rests in heaven

| Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009

George Sodini rests in heaven now because he professed a faith in Jesus years before his shooting rampage, a Tetelestai Christian Church leader said.

Jack Rickard, a deacon at the Plum church Sodini attended for years, said the Bible makes it clear that "professing a faith in Jesus as savior means you will have complete eternal salvation."

Rickard, 80, of Indiana, Pa., said Tetelestai members "are firm believers in 'once-saved, always-saved.'"

He said the church, which is in process of moving to New Kensington, focuses on the intense study of Scripture.

Rickard conveyed his belief that Sodini attained eternal life.

"George is going to heaven, but he's not going to get his rewards," Rickard said. He said that Sodini won't be offered all of heaven's benefits because of his sin.

"George was a professing believer," Rickard said.

Shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sodini walked into the LA Fitness Center in Great Southern Shopping Center in Collier and opened fire in an aerobics room filled with women. In addition to killing three, he wounded nine others before killing himself.

Sodini wrote in his online diary that the pastor at Tetelestai convinced him it was possible to commit mass murder and still be welcomed into heaven.

In his blog, Sodini alleged that the Rev. Alan "Rick" Knapp taught Tetelestai members that committing such a crime could be forgiven.

"Holy [expletive], religion is a waste. But this guy teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. Ask him," Sodini wrote.

After the shootings, Knapp went to the Oakmont police station where he told Chief David DiSanti Sr. that the church condones no such actions.

Deacon Rickard said he knew Sodini fairly well and never thought Sodini would commit such an act.

"I saw no traits like that in him except that he was a little quiet," Rickard said.

Rickard said he socialized with Sodini on several occasions. The two had beers together and Sodini ate dinner at Rickard's home at least once, Rickard said.

But, Rickard indicated that Sodini caused some trouble at Tetelestai, but declined specifics.

"The guy left the church over four years ago," Rickard said. "He was asked to leave the church once and he did. But because of certain circumstances, he was allowed to come back."

Sodini wrote in his blog that he attended Tetelestai for 13 years and left in November 2006.

Rickard said Tetelestai, an unaffiliated, independent Christian congregation, has about 400 members. The name is a Greek word that translates to "It is finished" and is purportedly the last word spoken by Jesus.

The congregation is renovating the former Westmoreland County Community College branch along East Hills Drive in New Kensington. Rickard said services should begin there in October.

Rickard acknowledged that public perception of the church has suffered because of Sodini. But he defended his congregation as a group of Christians whose sole interest is in studying Scripture and serving God.

"We are not a cult," Rickard said. "We are solely involved in an in-depth study of what the Scriptures say."

Additional Information:

Tetelestai members study 'weaponry'

The Valley News Dispatch published a photo Thursday of a National Rifle Association sticker on a window at the Tetelestai Church in Plum.

The sight struck some as odd.

It shouldn't, said Jack Rickard, a deacon at the church attended for years by fitness center killer George Sodini.

'We are firm believers, all of us, in the Second Amendment,' Rickard said. 'That's Constitutional.'

Rickard, an Indiana County resident who said he is a retired military officer, carries a gun. So do most, if not all, of Tetelestai members.

'Everybody there is a student of weaponry,' he said.

When pressed to explain why church members carry weapons, Rickard said the church had been threatened.

'Our church is protected,' he said. 'We have had people try to take over the pulpit.'

Rickard downplayed the gun issue, saying it was 'no big deal.' He said that Tetelestai doesn't preach violence or advertise its beliefs about gun rights.

'We preach nothing political,' he said.

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