Russ Jurek hadn't seen Arthur Hastings Wise in church for the past two Sundays. This was unusual for the man who always stood in a back corner of the North Augusta Church of Christ.
Mr. Wise hardly ever missed a Sunday worship service in the 11 years he was a church member. That includes the mornings he worked at his job and came in looking tired, said Dr. Jurek, a family minister and counselor at the Martintown Road church.
"I had it on my list to call him yesterday morning because I hadn't seen him in the past two weeks. He always stood in the back of the auditorium. He never came in to sit down," Dr. Jurek said Tuesday. "But even though he attended regularly, no one really knew him."
Dr. Jurek, a former police officer, spent a long night Monday at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. He wanted to speak with his friend, a man police have charged with murder.
Officials wouldn't allow Dr. Jurek to speak with the man he calls "Hastings," but arrangements have been made for him to talk with Mr. Wise once he has regains consciousness, the minister said.
While fielding telephone calls from church members inquiring what they could do to help Mr. Wise, Dr. Jurek wondered aloud how church elders had perhaps failed him.
"He's this huge guy, kind of a big, old teddy bear with a big, genuine smile. He looked very intimidating. But he was a warm, welcoming person who didn't force himself into people's lives. He was just kind of there," said Dr. Jurek. "He's a fellow that obviously had something going on in his life and didn't feel that he could come talk with us, come share with us. He was a part of our family."
Mr. Wise believed in God and was a Christian, said Dr. Jurek. He was also a father, though the minister said the man never brought his son or any other friends or family members to church.
"What he may have done is a bad thing. Just because one is a Christian doesn't mean he doesn't sin. That is why God sent his son to die for us, because we sin," Dr. Jurek said in response to how a man proclaiming to be a Christian could kill.
Mr. Wise only confided his prison record to people he felt wouldn't look down on him because of it, Dr. Jurek said.
"I don't think he was ashamed of his prison life, but he didn't go around publicizing it. It was something he learned a great deal from. It was something he was determined wasn't going to hold him back," the minister said.
Dr. Jurek recalled how "Hastings" would do anything to help out a person and how he always had a warm, welcoming smile for everyone; how he got along with everyone, especially children; how he was a loner but very friendly; how polite and nice he was; and that he was a very private person but participated in church activities, mingled and talked with everyone.
All these things considered, Dr. Jurek said, "Hastings" can't be excused.
"He is going to pay for what he has done. He'll have to accept the consequences for his actions in this life. And he needs to repent and confess before the Lord so that he won't have to pay for this in eternity," said Dr. Jurek. "We're not going to excuse him for what he's done. We're not going to soften it. But at the same time, we're not going to condemn his soul either.
"Prison is an awful place, but hell is worse."