Cops Kill Pastor in Drug Sting Gone Wrong

Photo: Pastor Jonathan Paul Ayers (left)

ATLANTA (AP) A 28-year-old pastor killed by drug task-force agents this week was a father-to-be who settled in a small town where he felt called to the ministry, a relative said Thursday.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said Jonathan Paul Ayers, pastor of Shoal Creek Baptist Church in Lavonia, was not a target of the probe that ended in gunfire at a Toccoa gas station Tuesday.

Authorities said a passenger in Ayers' car — an unidentified woman — was the target of the investigation. The shooting occurred around 2:30 p.m. after authorities said Ayers dropped the woman off at a store in downtown Toccoa, which is about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta.

Bankhead said agents approached Ayers for questioning but the pastor tried to avoid them, putting his car in reverse and striking one of the agents.

A grainy surveillance video from a nearby store shows two drug task-force agents emerge from a black SUV before Ayers' small car backs up. The two men fire into the passenger side of Ayers' car, and then it takes off with the agents running behind it, the video posted on WNEG-TV in Toccoa shows. The gas station owner would not release the video to The Associated Press.

Bankhead said Ayers died about an hour after he had surgery. He said the agent who was hit by Ayers' car was treated for minor injuries.

Bankhead would not reveal the identity of the woman who was in Ayers' car, but said she's been charged with cocaine possession and distribution.

On Thursday, Ayers' brother-in-law Matt Carpenter said the pastor had nothing to do with drugs.

"Any question of his character, particularly involving something like drugs, is just ridiculous," he said.

Carpenter described Ayers as a man of strong faith: He said though Ayers and his young wife had wanted to live closer to family, they settled near the Lavonia church where Ayers felt called to pastor.

"They were exactly where they were supposed to be," Carpenter said, adding that they had recently led the small congregation's first ever mission trip, to Africa.

Carpenter said Ayers' wife, who is 16 weeks pregnant, is grappling with the idea of being a single mom.

"That's why it's hurting us all so badly," he said.