CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Pastor Larry James can preach the gospel and, if needed, can pack a punch to save his life. Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte he did both.
“I wasn’t angry,” said Pastor Larry James. “I wasn’t really fearful.”
It all started around 1:30 p.m. when a stranger knocked on the door of the church office at South End Presbyterian on Freeland Lane. Pastor James greeted a man who had questions.
“‘I kinda just wanted to talk with you. I’m interested in knowing more about being a Christian,' [he] said, 'I have friends who are Christians and they say they have Jesus in their lives. They seem to live better than I do,’” Pastor James said the man told him. So he invited the man inside to his office.
“I kind of asked him some questions. He said his name is Mike Kelley,” The retired Pastor says he then spent about 15 minutes talking about the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Crucifix and the Resurrection. “I started to give him the information about what it is to be a Christian, how to become Christian.”
He said Kelley wanted to know what time church started on Sundays.
When the conversation ended, Pastor James said he asked Kelley if he wanted to pray.
"We were standing holding hands and we were praying. And I was praying somewhat a prayer of salvation for him that he would be able to receive Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life."
Then, as the two started to walk out of the office, Pastor James says Kelley changed.
“And he came up with the box knife and said ‘I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you right now. I need your money. I need your keys. I need your phone.' I said, ‘I can’t give it to you,’ and so we started tussling."
“And he said ‘I will kill you. I will kill you’ and I said ‘not today. Not today,’ and he said ‘I’ll kill you.’ And I said ‘no Mike, you’re not going to kill me. No Mike.’ ‘Give me your credit card.’ I said I’m not going to give you my credit card."
Kelley, who sources tell WBTV is the son of a former CMPD officer and grandson of a retired CMPD Major, drew blood after cutting the pastor several times.
Pastor James says he and Kelley fought for about 15 minutes.
“I caught him with a left and I hurt him, I know did. After I hit him he ran and took the car."
Kelley, according to Pastor James, took his cell phone, the church’s cordless phone and his car keys. The pastor had to go to a house near the church for help.
By the end of the day Kelley was dead. A suspect in two robberies, police were looking for him.
When a K9 handler spotted Kelley, police say he refused several commands and advanced on the officer presenting what police called an “imminent threat.”
The officer shot and killed Kelley.
“I felt sad after he was killed,” said Pastor James. "I wanted him caught.”
James says he doesn’t know if Kelley indeed went to the church to learn about Christianity or if went in search of a victim.
He calls the encounter “providential.”
“Providential because I don’t believe in co-incidences so there was something in it for me and there was something in it for him,” said Pastor James. “What it was for him I can’t speculate. What it was for me - I was faithful to what I do and that was to try and answer his questions as much as I could, give him a better understanding what it was to be Christian if that is what he wanted to do so that’s what I was trying to accomplish.”
Pastor James says he does wonder – after hearing the circumstances of the fatal shooting – if Kelley was trying to commit “suicide by cop.”
“It seemed like he was always intending to be killed is the way it came across," the pastor said, "but did he need to know something else prior to that, and maybe that was his reason for being there even unbeknownst to him?”