Big Lake pastor releases statement after shooting that left 2 would-be burglars dead

Posted: Monday, June 09, 2003

ANCHORAGE - After six weeks of silence, the Big Lake pastor who shot and killed two men he caught burglarizing his chapel is telling his story.

The pastor, Phillip Mielke, shot Chris Palmer, 31, and Frank Jones, 23, in the pre-dawn darkness of April 24 as they rushed toward him on the chapel's stairway - even after he shouted at them to stop, according to a public statement Mielke's attorneys sent Thursday to the Anchorage Daily News, the Frontiersman newspaper and Palmer District Attorney Roman Kalytiak.

The statement, by Anchorage attorney Jerry Wade, emphasizes that the shooting was justified and provides several details that had remained a mystery.

Mielke said he discovered the break-in at the Big Lake Community Chapel when an alarm system woke him. The alarm was a baby monitor installed in the chapel and in the bedroom of Mielke's home, across the road from the chapel, Wade said Thursday.

Mielke grabbed his handgun and rushed to the chapel in the dark, Wade wrote. The pastor noticed the back door forced open and realized the intruders were in the basement, a storage area for the food bank operated by the church, the statement said.

As he paused at the top of the stairs, the stair lights flickered on and off, the statement said. Then, Mielke "heard the intruders rush toward him on the stairway. He called out an order, something like 'Stop, halt, freeze.'

"Simultaneously, he backed away, and, in the darkness it appeared to him that, as the intruders reached the top of the stairs, they moved toward him.

"At that moment he fired because he felt threatened and thought that he had no safe alternative."

Mielke used a .44 Magnum in the shooting, Wade said Thursday.

The two men apparently were filling a box in the basement with food, a few appliances and some old hand tools, Wade said.

"Nothing of any great value," he added.

Mielke called 911 and gave Alaska State Troopers a statement the morning of the shooting, troopers have said.

Wade said Mielke would agree to additional questioning by troopers if investigators provided a transcript of the first interview and allowed his lawyers to participate. Troopers declined those conditions, he said.

The pastor and his wife, Helen, "are both deeply saddened by the senseless deaths of two young men whom they did not know," the statement said. They expressed sympathy for the families of Palmer and Jones.

"Certainly they would not have begrudged them the property which they apparently sought," the statement said.

District Attorney Kalytiak told Wade's co-counsel, Pam Sullivan, that he expected the case to go before a grand jury in Palmer on Tuesday, Wade said. Kalytiak did not return calls to the Anchorage Daily News on Wednesday and Thursday.

Mielke's attorneys are pressing Kalytiak to hold an inquest before a six-member jury instead of putting the case to a grand jury, Wade said. Historically called a "coroner's jury," the inquest establishes the cause of death and whether the death came through criminal means.

While a grand jury hearing takes place behind closed doors, the inquest is public and Mielke's attorneys can provide assistance, Wade said.

Kalytiak "seems uninterested in the idea," Wade said.

Rachael Pigott, mother of Frank Jones, said she hopes the pastor does time in prison on charges of manslaughter, if not murder.

"This pastor cannot get away with this. This is crazy," Pigott said. "There's just no words for it. A pastor is supposed to say, 'Take what you need if you need it.' If you ask them for a shirt, they're supposed to offer you a coat.

"Why didn't he just call the police?"

Palmer was found dead in a ditch near the church. Troopers responding to a 911 call at a nearby home found Jones dead around noon the same day.

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