The family of a Bradenton triple murder suspect is urging him to turn himself in. The family will hold a news conference at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office at noon on Saturday. Bay News 9 will carry that news conference live.
Three people, including a church pastor, were killed Thursday in Bradenton. Deputies say 33-year-old Andres 'Andy' Avalos is their prime suspect.
The gold 2003 Chevy Surburban registered to Avalos has been located. The suspect vehicle was found at a Bradenton Walmart at 6225 State Road 64.
Avalos remains at large.
The three victims were identified on Thursday night as the suspect's wife, 33-year-old Amber Avalos, neighbor 46-year-old Denise Potter, and the pastor of Bayshore Baptist Church, James "Tripp" Battle.
"This is all sudden and we're asking for prayers and support,” said Amber’s sister, Deanna Fereniere.
"My aunt was an amazing person,” said Amber’s niece, Alexandar Fereniere. “She was one of the strongest and bravest persons I know ... she would do anything to help anyone before herself."
Deputies responded to Bayshore Baptist Church at 1:20 p.m., located at 6502 14th St. W, which is where they found Battle's body. Amber Avalos and Potter were found dead at the Avalos home in the 1200 block of 67th Street NW.
Church members call the pastor's murder "devastating".
"He was a great person," said Barbara Holland who attends the church. "Absolutely great human being. I'm going to miss him so much."
Andy Avalos is believed to be armed and dangerous and the manhunt for him led to a tense scenario overnight.
Around midnight deputies rushed into a Bradenton neighborhood, blocking off a road and launching a helicopter. The search turned up nothing.
Authorities said a witness saw Avalos and Battle talking in the pastor's office and then Battle was shot in a courtyard at the church.
Investigators said Battle was shot but the cause of death for the other victims will be determined by a medical examiner.
Amber Avalos also worked at Bayshore Baptist Church. According to the church's web site she was in charge of the nursery and children's programs.
While deputies have yet to release a motive, Amber's sister said the couple was going through tough times and said Andy has a drug problem.
"They were also high school sweethearts,” said Fereniere. “They've been together since they were 16 years old, six kids together and something like drugs can wreck a family this bad."
According to the sheriff's office, Avalos had a number of prior arrests, including six of them for DUI.
The couple's six children, ranging in age from 4 to 15 are now in protective custody while deputies continue to search for their father.
Amber's family is begging him to do the right thing and turn himself in.
"We're just praying he's found,” Fereniere said, “and justice is done."
The Gold Star Club of Manatee County is offering a reward of up to $15,000 for the arrest of Avalos.
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Avalos can call Crime Stoppers at 866-634-TIPS or the MSO at 941-747-3011, ext. 2159.
Who was Pastor "Tripp" Battle?
Residents and church members say Pastor Tripp Battle was very involved in the community.
He would hold prayer meetings with the Bayshore High School football team in Bradenton, and according to the people who knew him, he always delivered the same message: If you live life through Christ, good things will happen.
Now, that message makes what happened to Tripp even harder to deal with.
Elwin "Karp" Carpenter considered Tripp Battle like a son.
"That's how much I appreciated him, and I loved him that much," said Carpenter. "It was just the type of person he was."
Tripp's actually father, Jimmy Battle, agrees, saying he always tried to help people, and he describes him as a great father.
"Every time we think of Tripp he's in his chair, and he's got one, or both of them (his children) up in the air, tossing them, playing with them, the way a daddy should."
Now, letting go is the hardest part for Tripp's family and friends. He was only 31 years old, had two kids, a wife, a mother, a father, and an entire adopted family in Bradenton. Tripp's mom says he was the type of guy who made an impact.
"He loved life and loved everybody, and he cared about everybody. He tried to help people, and I just miss him," Rhonda Battle explains as she tries to hold back tears.
In just a little over a year, Tripp tripled the congregation at the Bayshore Baptist Church in Bradenton, and for the first time in it's history, the church's giving budget was not only met, but exceeded.
"His sermons were so powerful, I mean power. I can't tell you how much he meant to me as far as a pastor and how much he meant to me as a man," said Karp.
He says it was his last sermon that Tripp preached about being prepared, and putting on the armor of God.
Now, it's those closest to Tripp left searching for harmony.
"Tripp just wanted to help people, that's all. He loved the Lord, he loved life, he loved his family, and most of all he loved God, and we know where he is. We know he's sitting in the hand Jesus right now," said Rhonda Battle.
Tripp's parents say they'd met Andy Avalos. They hired him to do projects around their house because Tripp was trying to help him find work. Despite everything that has happened, his mom says she hopes everything remains positive.