By Bob Allen
A grand jury in Manatee County, Fla., has indicted 33-year-old Andres “Andy” Avalos Jr. on three counts of first-degree murder for the killing of his wife, a Southern Baptist pastor and a third person in a violent spree in Bradenton, Fla., on Dec. 4.
Avalos is accused of brutally murdering his wife and a friend of hers in their home. Police say afterword he took the couple’s 4-year-old, one of their six children, to day care before ditching his car and taking a cab to Bayshore Baptist Church, one of the places where his wife had a job, where he shot and killed 31-year-old Pastor James “Tripp” Battle, who reportedly had been trying to help the couple work through some marital problems.
Avalos was arrested after a 51-hour manhunt Dec. 6 and reportedly confessed to all three murders. He was originally charged with second-degree murder — described as an unlawful killing without premeditation — but after meeting for two-and-a-half hours the grand jury found probable cause to up the charges to murder in the first-degree.
If convicted Avalos could face the death penalty, but according to local media, prosecutors haven’t yet decided whether they will seek it in this case.
About 800 people turned out Dec. 12 for a memorial service celebrating the life of Battle, a native of Bradenton who 18 months ago returned to his home town with aims to revitalize Bayshore Baptist Church after several years of decline.
An estimated 1,500 people attended his visitation the night before, which was scheduled for two hours but extended to three so all could pay their respects.
Amber Avalos, 32, was laid to rest Dec. 13 following a funeral at the Bridge Church in Bradenton, where she often attended. Pastor Mark Alt described her as “one of the most devoted followers I’ve known.” Speakers included Joy Battle, a young widow who worked at Bayshore Baptist Church as church secretary along with both her husband and Amber Avalos, who ran the church’s nursery.
Family members of Denise Potter, 46, who worked with Amber Avalos on Thursdays cleaning houses and is believed to have come to the house at the wrong time, planned a private memorial service. Potter moved with two of her three sons to Florida in 1993, but the rest of her family resides in Des Moines, Iowa.