The Chicago Tribune reports…
“Allen Smith was a retired Baptist minister who spent a lot of his time at a South Shore senior home discussing — and sometimes arguing — the fine points of Scripture with Ted Merchant, a fellow resident starting his own ministry.
Early Monday morning, the two were on the back patio of the Senior Suites of Rainbow Beach for their regular late-night talk about Bible passages when the 67-year-old Merchant pulled a gun and shot the 80-year-old Smith twice in the head, according to police and other residents. He died on the scene.
Merchant fled in a motorized scooter, then got into a black Lincoln Town Car in the parking lot of the assisted living center at 2804 E. 77th St., according to police. That’s where officers found him five hours later and arrested him around 6 a.m.
Merchant was charged with first-degree murder and ordered held on $500,000 bond. Police did not say what prompted the shooting, but said it was caught by a surveillance camera. Three people identified Merchant as the shooter, prosecutors said.
Residents said Smith was retired from the First Baptist Church in East Chicago and had moved into the assisted living center at 2804 E. 77th Place about a year ago.
Merchant is retired from the real estate business and has a son and daughter and seven grandchildren, his attorney said in court. He had been at the center for about six years and would often hold services in the community room because there was no chapel. He ran a ministry called Straight Gate, residents said.
The two were often seen on the back patio discussing religion, according to Dorothy Hull, 76, a retired auditor for the Bank of America in Chicago.
“They’d be out there all the time,” she said. “They’d talk about Bible passages and ideas about God. They always had little arguments going on about things like that.”
But Hull said she had no idea why Merchant would shoot Smith. “It was very surprising,” she said. “I just can’t get over it because he had a church in the community room every Sunday morning. He was retired too, but he had this church going on. I just couldn’t believe he did that.”
Smith grew up in Indiana, graduated from Yale Divinity School and helped start a church in Connecticut before joining the First Baptist Church as senior pastor. He never married and didn’t have any children.
“He was a very nice person, very outgoing, very friendly,’’ Hull said. “He would do things for you, like go to the store or whatever.” He had a car and would also pick meals up from a restaurant and bring them back to Rainbow.
Hull called Smith her friend and bingo partner. “He’d win pretty good,” she said.
The management would not allow them to play for money but would give residents cleaning products if they won. Hull laughed. “At least we didn’t have to buy it ourselves.’’
Ann Harding, 76, said Merchant tried to get fellow residents to join his ministry.
“I don’t know his religion, I just know he usually has a few people downstairs for prayers and whatever. He does it for the building,’’ Harding said. “He goes around to different apartments to try and get people for a congregation.
“He was a nice man, you know, when he came to the door,” she said.
William Hilliard, 75, a retired social worker who lives on the same floor as the suspect, said Merchant called himself a reverend and pastor and was trying to “get his ministry off the ground.”
Hilliard described him as “soft spoken” and “not aggressive,” though he would stand up for his beliefs.
“We did have face-to-face talks pertaining to religion, and he had his beliefs, and I challenged him on some things and he challenged me on those,” Hilliard said. “I criticized it, and I let him know. That’s the relationship we had. He was trying to get his ministry off the ground. I went to some of his meetings.
“He and I bumped heads as far as Scripture is concerned,” Hilliard said.
Hilliard was not aware that Merchant had a gun. He didn’t know there was a shooting until he saw news trucks and police come to his building.
“I’m not shocked that much. I’m not a person that is shocked easily,” he said. “I am surprised. This is Chicago and this is the South Side of Chicago, but it is the Southeast Side of Chicago. There’s a lot of good stuff that is going on the Southeast Side.”