Ruskin pastor killed in accidental discharge

February 22nd, 2011 by Staff

RUSKIN – The congregation of a Ruskin church struggled through regularly scheduled services Sunday morning following the accidental shooting death of its leader.

Investigators with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office say Pastor John Bartha was handling a gun at his home just before 5 p.m. Saturday when it discharged, striking him in the chest. He died a short time later.

Bartha, 64, was supposed to deliver a sermon at the Ruskin United Methodist Church but instead congregation members talked about the man they already miss.

“A tough old bird, you might call him, but he had a heart of gold,” said longtime friend Reverend Hal Jeffrey, who had known Bartha for almost 40 years. “He cared immensely and the people knew it.”

News of Bartha’s sudden death hit Jeffrey hard, but he had to compose himself quickly for it was now up to him to speak to those attending Sunday morning’s worship service.

Because the news of Bartha’s death wasn’t made public until late Saturday evening, many members of the congregation didn’t hear the news until Sunday morning when they arrived at church. The tragedy was met with shock and sadness.

“He was really an amazing person,” said Melissa Thompson, a member of the church’s choir. “He was very strong in his beliefs but always with integrity.”

Bartha is survived by his wife of 37 years, three children and two grandchildren. They didn’t attend church on Sunday.

“They are devastated by this tragic accident,” said Jaclyn Kilpatrick, who spoke on behalf of the family on Sunday. “They are spending lots of time in prayer and just trying to take one step at a time.”

No the church has a huge void to fill as they continue the grieving process for the man who had led their congregation for the past six years.

Added Reverend Jeffrey, “Johnny will expect us to rise up and go out and serve and we will.”

Bartha was a veteran of the Vietnam war and an avid outdoorsman who was familiar with guns. Investigators have not yet released what type of gun involved in the shooting but believe Bartha was moving when it went off.

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