Pastor Ryan Chandler, a father of two, celebrated his 35th birthday the day before he was killed in an Arkansas supermarket, leaving his family devastated.
“I’m probably six feet underground,” the manager of the Ahosky Connection Center in North Carolina said in a virtual birthday party video posted to his Facebook page on May 4, adding, “Thank God I Stand on the ground, not under the ground.”
Chandler was killed at the Jordanian Kwik Stop on North Washington Street in Forrest City just before noon Thursday, according to the official police report. Forrest City police responded after being alerted to a man sitting in a parked car bleeding from a head injury.
Police said the victim appeared to be behind the wheel of a car outside the store when he was struck in the head by a man sitting in the passenger seat. Police arrested the suspect shortly after.
The shooter has since been identified as 24-year-old Rodney Ward of Mabelvale in the Little Rock area. Ward was arrested and is being held in the St. Francis County Jail on charges of first-degree murder, evidence tampering and resisting arrest, police said.
As the shocking news circulated on social media, in the absence of an official report, bloggers and social media users speculated about the identity of the young pastor and the weekly Facebook live show “Let’s Clean the Air.” The presenter was shot dead by a hitchhiker — a story that has yet to be confirmed.
“In due course, I trust that God will reveal what happened,” the deceased’s father, Brian Chandler, said in a Facebook video.
“Please keep our family in prayer. We seek God’s strength because it’s hard to lose a child, especially the firstborn. My mind is racing at a hundred miles an hour,” he said.
According to Brian Chandler, he was restless and fighting the urge to retaliate. “I don’t sleep well, I’m not going to sit here and play like I’ve never thought about it. I’ve been doing group sex for years. I’ve been on the road for years, and I haven’t forgotten it. But, thank goodness , I will leave everything to him and let him handle it, because I know being locked up won’t work for my son.”
A woman who claimed to be the deceased man’s best friend, Shawnda Ree Tillis, claimed to know the “truth” about what happened in the fatal incident in a now-deleted Facebook video. She insisted the missionary did not hitch a ride, but a “tramp” who fired a gun.
Regardless of the true details, the undisputed fact is that lives have ended as a result of gun violence, and Pastor Chandler’s grieving family, parishioners, supporters, and friends need a great deal of prayer, love, and support at this difficult time.