Dive team recovers guns

Emerging Evidence

EMERGING EVIDENCE - Members of the Wise County Sheriff Department's Dive Team located a stolen gun safe in Lake Bridgeport and removed eight guns Tuesday (left). The heavy safe was lifted from the lake Wednesday with help from a wrecker. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

In a countywide investigation, lawmen went to Lake Bridgeport early last week to recover key evidence from a Chico theft of guns and ammunition.

They were hoping that by week’s end, they’d have the thieves in the Wise County Jail in Decatur.

Emerging Evidence 2

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Members of the Wise County Sheriff’s Department Dive Team were in the water Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday just north of the U.S. 380 bridge that crosses Lake Bridgeport, ultimately finding and retrieving a heavy gun safe and nine of the guns that were inside it when it was stolen May 16 from a residence north of Chico.

Ammunition was also recovered from the safe.

At least three other guns, two of which were said to be Thompson submachine guns, were in the safe belonging to heirs of a gun collector when it was stolen. They were recovered elsewhere.

One of two men involved in the theft turned himself in Wednesday, said a source familiar with the investigation. Sheriff David Walker said he expected to have the second man in custody by Monday.

“Our investigators did a great job of working this case and developing the information that led us here,” Walker said Wednesday while keeping watch of diving operations from a rocky ledge under the bridge.

“And our dive team did a great job of conducting the search and locating the gun safe,” he added.

Divers found the safe beneath 22 feet of water some 50 yards north of the bridge.

Walker said the thieves dumped the safe from the bridge. He theorized that the safe floated a while before sinking.

The search at Lake Bridgeport began Monday afternoon.

Divers located the safe Tuesday and that afternoon removed the antique guns, some of which were home-built working replicas – including a flintlock rifle and a flintlock pistol.

Wednesday, divers were back at the scene to recover the heavy safe. One lane of U.S. 380 was shut down for a time to allow a crane to lift the safe from the water.

“We had a pretty good idea where it (the safe) was at, and our divers did a grid search,” Walker said. “Visibility is zero down there, so they were searching the bottom of the lake by feel only.”

The sheriff said a diving barge used in the search was acquired by his department about two years ago, when the dive team was established.

Diver training had been ongoing since, Walker said, and this was the team’s first major operation.

Drying Out

DRYING OUT - Guns from a stolen safe await a trip to an evidence locker after being located by Wise County Sheriff Department divers at Lake Bridgeport Tuesday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Billy ‘Bedbug’ Watkins

Watkins BillyGraveside service for Billy “Bedbug” Watkins, 79, of Lake Bridgeport was April 8 at East Bridgeport Cemetery with the Rev. Joey Vick officiating.

Watkins died Monday, April 4, 2011, in Bridgeport.

Born April 23, 1931, in Walters, Okla., to Claude and Zora (Bowen) Watkins, he served in the U.S. Air Force and was a retired truck driver. He married Eva B. Bogart Oct. 13, 1961, in Gainesville and attended Lake Bridgeport Baptist Church.

Watkins was preceded in death by grandson Adam Watkins; and brothers Doyle Watkins and Willard Watkins.

He is survived by his wife; sons Billy Watkins of Paradise, Rocky Watkins and wife, Karin, of Sherman and Joshua Watkins of Denton; daughter Tonie Watkins of Irving; grandchildren Amanda Madera, Matthew Watkins, Ashley Watkins and Kari Kate Watkins; sister Nadine Rayborn of Weatherford; great-grandchildren Xander and Dorian Madera; and other relatives.

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Billy “Bedbug” Watkins

GRAVESIDE service for Billy “Bedbug” Watkins, 79, of Lake Bridgeport is 1 p.m. today at East Bridgeport Cemetery. Hawkins Funeral Home in Bridgeport is handling arrangements.

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Billy “Bedbug” Watkins

GRAVESIDE service for Billy “Bedbug” Watkins, 79, of Lake Bridgeport is 1 p.m. Friday at East Bridgeport Cemetery. Family visitation is 6-8 tonight at Hawkins-Bridgeport.

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Billy “Bedbug” Watkins

GRAVESIDE service for Billy “Bedbug” Watkins, 79, of Lake Bridgeport is 1 p.m. Friday at East Bridgeport Cemetery. Family visitation is 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Hawkins Funeral Home in Bridgeport.

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Maintain a positive outlook

I am contributing this letter as a private citizen of Wise County. I wanted to have something positive and non-political show up on this page today.

I love living in Wise County (12 years now); I love Texas, and I love the USA. It’s easier to talk about the bad than it is to take the time to appreciate, embrace and point out the good.

Yes, we face some tough times, but you know what? I bet we will get through it. How we do that is up to each of us individually and collectively as a community.

Let’s try positive instead of negative, just for a little while. At least I am going to approach 2011 this way. Will you join me?

And no, my signature will not be Pollyanna.

Pat Slayton
Lake Bridgeport

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Jihad hoax leads to arrest

A Lake Bridgeport man associated with an international Christian organization called the Voice of the Martyrs was arrested earlier this month for allegedly making terroristic threats under the guise of radical Islam.

Allen R. Burgess, 42, was arrested for making a terroristic threat after Bridgeport police identified him as the suspect in a string of flyers posted around town that startled several citizens. The bulletins indicated that radical Muslims were intent on staging a deadly attack on the city of Bridgeport.

The police department began receiving calls about the flyers.

“At the first of the month, people started finding flyers hung up around town at places like Sonic and Diamond,” said assistant police chief Steve Stanford. “The letters were terrorist based. They demanded that everyone leave town now, and that Islamic terrorists were going to kill ‘you and your families.'”

Employees at Diamond helped investigators identify Burgess.

The case was turned over to Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Burgess told investigators that it was only a joke, and he thought it “would be funny.”

“We made it a priority to catch him whether it was serious or just a prank,” Stanford said.

The flyers Burgess posted around Bridgeport came from the group Voice of the Martyrs, a non-profit organization created to oppose the persecution of Christians.

Stanford said he thinks the man did not pose a real threat, but such incidents can’t be taken lightly.

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“Morrie” is memorable

It was my great pleasure to enjoy the intimate venue at the Decatur Visitor’s Center for the Off 380 Players production of “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I have been a season ticket holder almost all of its 10 years, and this was the best performance I have seen.

Jamie Furlong as Morrie was convincing and inspiring as the dying sociology professor, but the outstanding range of emotions displayed by Scott Johnson as Mitch Albom was amazing. Under the skillful direction of Ray Cornelison Jr., the audience felt as if they were privy to a very private conversation.

I encourage all of you to attend one of the remaining three performances this weekend. But take a tissue along as there was not a dry eye, male or female, at this afternoon’s performance. Bravo for the talent we have here in Wise County.

Pat Slayton
Lake Bridgeport

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Cleansing waters: Church conducts old-fashioned baptism in lake

Cleansing waters: Church conducts old-fashioned baptism in lake

Jett Reynolds, 11, of Runaway Bay, waded into the gently lapping waters of Lake Bridgeport last Sunday.

HOLY WATER - Runaway Bay Community Church held service on the water followed by baptisms last Sunday at Lake Bridgeport. Pastor Ollin Collins, right, lifts a drenched Kelly Kimbrough. Kimbrough wanted to "re-confirm" his faith before going to Alaska for the Air Force. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A preacher stood waist deep in brown water. The congregation from Runaway Bay Community Church gathered on the sandy, beige shore under a bright, late morning sun.

Preacher Ollin Collins recited a brief prayer and immersed the child in the cool water. He quickly resurfaced, dripping like a fountain, sending ripples through the calm current.

“This is the outward expression of an inward happening,” Collins said. “As you start under the water, you are non-verbally saying you choose the Lord. Baptism means you choose Jesus to live in your life.”

Jett’s little brother Jonathan, 4, splashed ankle-deep after Collins had finished a series of baptisms.

“Jonathan is the only member of our family who hasn’t been baptized this way yet,” said his mother, Carrie Reynolds. “We want to wait until he is old enough to make his own choice.”

Jonathan is fortunate to have made it this far. In a sense, he’s already been born again.

“He was born with only half a heart,” Reynolds said. “He didn’t have the left two chambers. He was fine until he was 2, but then it started giving him serious problems and he had to receive a new heart.”

He was on a waiting list for five months before a heart became available. He underwent surgery in Houston. His mother remembers the successful completion of the procedure down to the minute.

“His new heart started beating at 4:32 a.m. on Jan. 7, 2008,” she said.

The only thing they know about the heart is it came from a 5-year-old girl.

Despite having a different story, Kelly Kimbrough entered the waters for the same reason as Jett.

“I just wanted to confirm my faith,” Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough is preparing to leave for Anchorage, Alaska, to report for duty in the Air Force. He’s served for 17 years as a reserve. He went back in after 9/11.

Before the baptisms began, the congregation gathered for a sermon on the water. Ten boats, each one brimming with church members, were tied together within sight of the Runaway Bay bridge.

He said the purpose of this different preaching approach was to create “a non-conventional way to get people to come to church.”

“This is definitely a non-traditional church,” said Tiffany Harrison. “That’s why I come to Runaway Bay Community Church. Because we’re allowed to do things like this.”

WATER WONDER - Jonathan Reynolds, 4, watches water drip from his fingers like rivulets. Jonathan, who was born with half a heart, is the only member of his family who has not yet been baptized in the lake. His mother, Carrie, is waiting until he's old enough to make his own decision. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Surrounded by water, hills and trees, the sermon started in a brilliant environment.

“This is a first for us,” Collins said to the congregation seated in the array of bobbing boats. “We’ve never done this before.

“It was rumored we were going to have a wet T-shirt contest,” he joked, “but the guys didn’t want to do it.”

Collins then straightened his face and pulled out a pocket Bible. He went into his sermon, focusing on the story of Jesus walking on the water through a storm.

“Imagine the lake waters are like the life you live,” he said. “When the lake is smooth, we don’t always think about Jesus even though he’s with us all the time. But when the water is choppy, it’s easier to look to him.

“In the troubled times, keep your eyes on Jesus and not on the troubles.”

The sermon was analogous to the church. The church focuses on the Bible and the word of God, and not the particulars of its members.

“This church is full of sinners,” said music minister John Webster. “We believe God loves everyone, including sinners, and we encourage them to attend.”

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