Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Swinging bat kills baby at prayer service

Swinging bat kills baby at prayer
service in Wheaton, Minn.

Two angry men were involved in a
dispute with the father of the 14-
month-old girl, authorities in
Wheaton said.

By VINCE TUSS, Star Tribune

Last update: September 4, 2009 - 11:04 PM

It started with a dispute over a washer and dryer.

It ended with the death of a 14-month-old girl, hit
in the head with a baseball bat during a prayer
service.

The two men arrested in the Thursday night
attack, as well as the dead girl's family, were
members of Thy Kingdom Come Church in
Wheaton, in western Minnesota, site of the attack,
the church's pastor said.

Pastor Danny Barnes said he had given the washer
and dryer to the girl's father, Claude Hankins, but
one of the men had felt the appliances should go
to him.

That led to an argument earlier Thursday in
downtown Wheaton, the Traverse County
Sheriff's Office said. The city is about 75 miles
south of Moorhead, near the border with North
and South Dakota.

Barnes was out of town at his son's cross country
meet when he got a phone call about the dispute,
which he said took place between Hankins and
one of the men at a thrift store between 4:30 and
5 p.m.

"I thought they had resolved it, with discussion,"
Barnes said.

But it wasn't over.

Armed with the bat and a 2-by-4, David E. Collins
and Darryl G. Kennedy burst into the church,
where a prayer service was going, on just before
7 p.m., the Sheriff's Office said.

They came in, swinging, through separate doors,
Barnes said.

Collins, who had the bat, went after Hankins, who
grabbed a chair to defend himself, according to
the Sheriff's Office.

Within 30 seconds, the girl had been hit, Barnes
said.

"It was the worst 30 seconds in time," he said.

The assailants probably didn't know that the girl
had been hit, the pastor added, as Collins kept
chasing Hankins around the church.

But at some point, Collins and Kennedy left and a
call went out to authorities.

The girl was taken to Wheaton Community
Hospital and later to MeritCare in Fargo, N.D.,
where she died.

The pastor returned to Wheaton later Thursday
and began trying to track down Collins. Through
phone calls to relatives and others, Barnes said he
caught up with him outside a bar in Brookings, S.
D.

"He was sitting on a park bench outside the bar --
extremely intoxicated and distraught," Barnes
said.

The pastor said he told Collins he had to come
back to Wheaton with him. They drove back to
town, and Barnes said they went to the municipal
airport and called authorities, where Collins was
taken into custody around midnight.

The Sheriff's Office wasn't releasing information
about the arrests, saying Collins later
surrendered and was booked into the Traverse
County jail. Kennedy "was talked down," the
Sheriff's Office said, and was arrested and also
jailed.

Authorities said that the men were being held on
suspicion of second-degree assault and that
charges were pending with the Traverse County
attorney's office.

According to Wheaton police, Collins is 56 and
Kennedy 43.

The Ramsey County medical examiner's office was
conducting an autopsy. The child's name was not
being released pending notification of all relatives.

Barnes said the girl had an older sister, as well as
two stepbrothers who live elsewhere.

Barnes, whose church has 70 registered
members, said it does a lot of work with drug and
alcohol treatment. And he said that alcohol played
a large part in the argument and its escalation.

He said during services Sunday he plans to
address "the role of alcohol and drugs in our
society and the lack of respect."

Barnes also plans to minister to the men and the
girl's family, to get the men to pray for forgiveness
and repentance, and to help the girl's family find a
way to forgive.

"I hope when we get through this terrible tragedy,
something is learned."

Vince Tuss • 612-673-7692

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