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Pinellas church grieves after pastor's daughter dies from gunshot

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 03:00 PM
PINELLAS PARK -

The pastor's daughter always had a Sunday tradition.

When Tim Kelley stepped off the pulpit, 20 year-old Hannah would walk up to him, hug his neck and tell him he "did a good job." He would return the love by giving his oldest daughter a kiss on her head.

What Kelley wouldn't have given to have enjoyed that moment on Sunday.

A week ago, a church member accidentally shot Hannah in the head at Grace Connection Church, their place of worship. She died Saturday morning at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg with her family by her side.

Sunday, the small congregation gathered to worship, but without its pastor or his family.

"They're exhausted, as you can imagine; really [they've been] on a death vigil this last week at the hospital begging and fighting for the life of their daughter," said David Gibbs, a family friend. "They desperately want to find the good. God has purpose in every life."

During Sunday services, assistant pastors played a recorded message from Kelley. Many church members wiped away tears as they listened.

"We were never alone the whole time we were up there in the intensive care ward," Kelley told them. "You were in the room, and you were singing and you were praying every half hour on the hour, 24 hours a day. Thank you for praying for my precious, precious Hannah Grace."

Kelley said he and his wife will take a few weeks off to grieve and cope.

"We will see you again very soon," he said. "The Lord had a plan that we don't understand this day. I may not understand it tomorrow or the next day. I don't anticipate I will. But I'll trust him, and I know you will too."

Investigators say Moises Zambrana, who handles the sound system for the church, took two other men into a closet off of the fellowship hall after services last Sunday to look at his 9mm Ruger pistol. Zambrana had taken out the magazine and thought the chamber was empty, but the gun went off while he was explaining its safety features. The bullet went through the wall and hit Hannah Kelley in the head.

Since it happened, Kelley's family has reached out to Zambrana.

"[They] have encouraged everyone, including law enforcement, to act with forgiveness and give grace. That man has suffered enough," Gibbs said. "They want him to realize he still has a life to live and should move forward. This should not permanently stop what God has for him."

Hannah Kelley was part of Ground Zero, the Youth Ministry at Grace Connection. She was a dancer and planned on starting a Zumba dance class to help keep her fellow worshippers fit.

"I've realized the inspiration that a loss of a life can inspire us to live," said John Penu, a church member and childhood friend of Hannah's. "To not take our moments here for granted and to love people unabashed because you never really know when that time comes when that chance you have is going to be gone."

Kelley's family and friends are planning a public memorial service for Feb. 25 at Calvary Chapel Church, 8900 U.S. 19, Pinellas Park, FL 33782.

In the meantime, church members continue to rely on faith to cope.

"[We feel] crushed ... broken-hearted," said Zenia Sanchez, another church member. "There's no words to describe how we feel."


Photojournalist Anthony Allred contributed to this report. jgreen@wfla.org (813) 731-8002

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