Salvation Army Major Philip Wise Murdered on Christmas Eve Over Red Kettle Money

(AP Photo)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CBS/AP) During the holiday season, Salvation Army Major Philip Wise loved to give "hope to the hopeless."

But everything changed Christmas Eve when the former janitor, and current officer of the Salvation Army church, was gunned down as he returned to his office to file paperwork.

Police say two men dressed in black clothing approached Wise and his three children on Christmas Eve in the building's parking lot. They demanded money, and then one of the men shot Wise, 40, who had just dropped off two bell-ringers on the final day of the Salvation Army's kettle drive.

He died a short time later at the scene.

Leading a Sunday service in the same center where her husband was shot and killed, Salvation Army Major Cindy Wise said her mission to minister to the people in North Little Rock's Baring Cross neighborhood has not changed.

Photo: In this undated photo provided by the Salvation Army via The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Salvation Army Maj. Philip Wise is seen.

"I believe I have peace today because I know the work is not done here yet," Wise told nearly 50 people on Sunday. Standing before the congregation in her navy blue uniform, she said she will continue to work to give "hope to the hopeless ... so, together we will minister to this neighborhood. Together we will still provide salvation and grace to this neighborhood."

Wise, who was alone inside the center when her husband was shot, called the police. Officers found Philip Wise lying in the building's back doorway.

"I know that someone will come forward and I know that justice will prevail," Wise said after the Sunday service. "I know that deep down I have to forgive them for taking my husband away from me, and that's the way it has to be done ... to forgive them and continue to pray for their salvation."

"I didn't know if my children would ever be able to walk through these doors again," Cindy Wise told the congregants. But since church was so important to their father, they wanted to go, she said. At the end of the service, the children, ages 8, 6 and 4, joined the adults in the sanctuary, clapping and singing along with the worship band.

The children are "holding up pretty well for the most part," Wise said after the service, which lasted more than 1 1/2 hours. "Their dad had made a huge difference in their lives" in the 1 1/2 years since the couple had adopted them, she added.

"They were Phil's heart," said Salvation Army Captain Bob Cornett, a longtime friend of Philip Wise.

Wise's friends said mentoring children was a big part of his Salvation Army ministry, which he started more than 15 years ago. He had originally worked as a janitor at a Salvation Army center in his hometown of Weirton, W.Va., his wife said.

Described by friends as a big, gentle guy, Philip Wise taught children ages 6 to 14 in The Salvation Army Adventure Corps program, said Cavon Phillips, 27, who was training with the Wises to become a Salvation Army officer.

Cindy Wise added that her husband, a tuba player, also taught brass instruments and rhythm to some of the roughly 40 to 60 youths attending the community center surrounded by the Baring Cross neighborhood.

"He was never afraid walking these streets," she added. The Wises had pastored at the center for 2 1/2 years.

North Little Rock police have yet to identify any suspects, Sgt. Terry Kuykendall said Sunday afternoon.

Before the service, Cornett said: "Someone shot him in the line of ministry."