The pastor of a tiny Middle River church was found stabbed to death last night by horrified parishioners who had gathered for a Christmas Eve candlelight service and became worried when their minister did not appear.
The body of the Rev. Samual Nathaniel Booth II, 55, was found about 7 p.m., lying in a small white trailer behind the Christian Faith Tabernacle Church in the 900 block of Middle River Road. Police said the pastor, who lived in the trailer, had been stabbed repeatedly.
As dozens of neighborhood residents and onlookers gathered outside the church, about 30 worshipers who had come for the Christmas Eve service and a wedding that was to follow found themselves instead being interviewed by homicide detectives. Gathered in the back of the one-story, white clapboard building, decked out in holiday wreaths, the worshipers took turns talking to detectives before being allowed to leave.
They were unsure about the status of this morning's service -- a celebration of Christ's birth that was to include a choir made up of several elderly members who were described as distraught over the slaying.
"Pastor Booth was a great man," said Polly Wright, who has been a member of the congregation for 12 years. "He was the best preacher there was. He loved everybody. It hurts us a great deal that our pastor is gone."
Baltimore County police released few details last night. They recovered a knife from the scene, but would not say if it was the weapon used in the slaying.
Investigators said they had not determined a motive, but were checking out reports from church members that a recent split -- causing some parishioners to break off and start another church -- had fueled bad feelings among some members.
"It's really depressing," said Cpl. Kevin Novak, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department. "The parishioners have all been offered some counseling" from a police crisis team, he said.
Corporal Novak said worshipers gathered for a 7 p.m. candlelight service and grew concerned when Pastor Booth didn't show up. A group walked to the trailer, about 300 feet from the road, and found the body.
Members said Pastor Booth had started the church 13 years ago but had only recently moved into the trailer, just a few feet from the church next to another mobile home used for classrooms.
As police officers strung yellow crime scene tape from the church to the trailer, tensions between current and former members heated up. Several tearful former members who sought to enter the church were asked to leave by current members.
"He was a loving and kind man," said Barbara Geiger, a member of the church for 10 years before she and her husband broke away, saying "God was moving us on. We have [Mr. Booth] in our hearts. We really care about him."
Police said they will check into the tensions in the church as part of their investigation, but Corporal Novak said it was too early to say if the split was related to the slaying.
"We really haven't been able to consider the substance of those arguments, but that's something we'll investigate," Corporal Novak said.
"It's a terrible shock," said Tabor Rekab, of White Marsh, who said he has visited the church several times. "Pastor Booth was a very talented and very well-liked man. He was a very good preacher and a very good singer."