GARDENDALE, Ala. (AP) – Church members and friends knew the Rev. Terry Greer as a joyful fellow with thick white hair and a quick smile.
“Hello, you beautiful people!” he often told his congregation at the start of a sermon.
For years, Greer, 53, seemed to be a model pastor. He landed a prime job with one of north Alabama’s largest United Methodist congregations. Colleagues praised him as a preacher. Congregants called his marriage to wife Lisa loving.
But health problems forced him from the pulpit, and he was haunted by what his lawyer calls personal, psychological and professional struggles.
Now, friends and colleagues are struggling to understand how Greer ended up charged with killing his wife and wounding their daughter during a shooting in their church-owned home Jan. 10.
Greer arrived at Gardendale-Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church in suburban Birmingham last June. Within three months, he suffered heart problems, a traffic wreck and a bad fall, and friends say his public life was deteriorating. Since his health problems began, few people had seen Greer until his photo flashed on TV screens when he was charged with murder in the slaying of Lisa Greer, 52, and attempted murder in the shooting of Suzanna Greer, 18.
Police say that moments after shooting his wife and daughter, Greer tried to kill himself with a kitchen knife. He is now hospitalized and under police guard in Birmingham.
A lawyer representing Greer said health problems were key in the pastor’s downward spiral.
“It was a perfect storm of personal and professional problems,” said Henry Lagman, lawyer for Greer. Medications could have played a role in his mental collapse, Lagman said, and Greer had an appointment to see a psychiatrist the day after the killing.
“He’s in a very dark place,” Lagman said. “I think the real question is how he got there.”
Police haven’t disclosed a possible motive, but those who know Greer say it was clear something made him snap.
“We all know what happened was not done by the Terry Greer that we knew when he came,” said Kenny Clemons, a friend and lifelong member of Gardendale-Mt. Vernon Methodist.
A native of Elizabethton, Tenn., Greer served in the Army for nine years, then became a pastor. He was assigned to a church in the north Alabama town of Scottsboro, where he met Lisa Eidson. A Scottsboro native who attended Birmingham-Southern College, she dated Greer for a year, and they married.
Lisa was an elementary school teacher, and her husband was on the staff of the deputy commanding general at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville before following a calling to preach. He earned theology degrees from Emory University in Atlanta and Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Greer was at First United Methodist Church in Decatur for eight years, then was assigned last June to Gardendale-Mt. Vernon, with an average attendance of about 670.
Clemons said everything seemed fine for a time after the Greers arrived in Gardendale with daughter Suzanna, a student at the University of South Alabama.
“He was a nice person _ a very vibrant, easy-to-talk-to kind of individual,” said Clemons, a former Gardendale mayor who got to know Greer through church and the Rotary Club. “He was recognized among other preachers as a real quality person and a real quality preacher.”
In July, Greer wished his wife a happy 27th anniversary on Facebook.
“She is my love, my helpmate and my enabler,” he wrote. “She is as pretty and sweet as ever!”
On Oct. 17, Greer was injured in an automobile accident after he blacked out while driving. Tests revealed cardiac problems, and he underwent a heart procedure the next day, according to Facebook posts and messages from Greer and his wife.
“Need some time to rest and heal,” he wrote Oct. 19. “Sore from the wreck and the surgery. Thanks for the offers but, I really do not need visitors. I know you understand. Thank you ALL for the prayers. God bless.”
Days after the wreck, Greer was again injured when he fell 15 feet off the deck of their home. Lisa Greer, in a Facebook message to a friend, said he broke a rib, had an irregular heartbeat and suffered bleeding on his brain.
“This is a bad dream!!! I want them to get to the bottom of this. (I’m) scared to bring him home again!” Lisa Greer wrote.
Greer was feeling better by Nov. 4, when he posted an update on Facebook: “I am slowing healing. The broken rib and cracked tail bone hurt the most. I am noticing daily improvement and will see three doctors this week for follow up. I am looking forward to getting back to work with God’s beautiful people soon.”
Greer was in and out of the hospital again in early December, Lisa Greer wrote, and then she came down with the flu, a sinus infection and walking pneumonia. Home from college, Suzanna took over grocery shopping and planning meals, her mother said on Facebook.
Amid the family’s troubles, police arrested a contemporary worship leader at Gardendale-Mt. Vernon Methodist on charges of using a computer to solicit a minor for sex and traveling for the purpose of engaging in sexual relations. Gardendale police Chief Mike Walker said there was no apparent link between the shooting and the charges against Joel Kent Hodges, 31, who was hired during Greer’s tenure.
The day after the arrest papers were filed in court, Lisa Greer wrote a friend: “I hope 2013 is better for the Greers!”
Less than two weeks later, police said, Greer opened fire on his wife and daughter in their home, a four-bedroom brick house owned by the church and valued at nearly $255,000.
Lisa Greer was fatally injured, but Suzanna managed to get the gun and run to a neighbor’s home, police said.
Police said Greer then grabbed a kitchen knife and went into a bathroom, where an officer who busted into the home with a golf club found him. Greer had repeatedly stabbed himself in the chest and neck, police said, and he tried to grab the officer’s gun before being subdued.
Greer was taken to a hospital. He developed pneumonia and was placed on a ventilator, but police say he’s expected to recover and will be taken to jail when he’s well enough.
The United Methodist Church has suspended Greer from ministerial duties and appointed an interim pastor at his old church.
Officials said the denomination is waiting to find out more about Greer’s health before deciding what more to do about his status as a minister. He could surrender his credentials or have them removed after a formal denominational process, a church attorney said.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett said the congregation will receive special attention from denomination leaders for “the next year or so.”
“All of us feel sad _ very, very sad,” Wallace-Padgett told church members during a sermon the Sunday after Lisa Greer’s death.
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