Town struggles with toddler's church slaying

September 9, 2009 8:32:22 AM PDT
Aundrea Brownlow's father says he's forgiven the man who came to Thy Kingdom Come World Ministries swinging a baseball bat that landed a fatal blow to the 14-month-old girl's head. Her death marked a tragic end to an argument over a $20 debt and a donated washer and dryer.

Still, some residents of Wheaton, a town of about 1,400 near Minnesota's border with the Dakotas, say greater scrutiny of the church and its pastor's criminal history are needed to prevent future confrontations.

David Collins, 50, of Wheaton, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in Aundrea's death last Thursday. He also faces charges of attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault against her father, Claude Hankins.

The men had argued earlier over $20 and the washer and dryer given to Hankins by the Rev. Danny Barnes, who started the church nearly five years ago as a welcoming place for people down on their luck.

"I was very angry at first, which I believe is part of the initial shock," Hankins said inside the church where fellow congregants prepared for his daughter's Wednesday funeral. "What happens if you keep that anger in you and you don't forgive somebody, it's going to stop you from having a productive anything."

Darryl Kennedy, 42, of Wheaton, also is charged with second-degree assault in the case. Authorities said Kennedy loaned Collins the baseball bat and later showed up at the church and swung at Hankins with a 4-foot-long 2x4.

Collins and Kennedy, who are in custody, have been granted public defenders but were not immediately assigned attorneys.

Barnes said he planned to "attack the true culprit in this particular incident" in his Wednesday eulogy for Aundrea.

"We believe that it was the spirit of addiction," he said. "It was enhanced by alcohol and drugs."

Hankins said he could "smell the alcohol reeking off" Collins on the day of the attack and Barnes also said Collins appeared to be under the influence. Collins' wife, Melissa, said Tuesday night that her husband had no comment.

Barnes, 53, touts Thy Kingdom Come's yearlong program to help people, especially those battling addiction, clean up their lives. He said there are about 70 registered members, many of whom were referred to the church by shelters, jails, hospitals, treatment programs and other agencies.

Barnes said his own rap sheet includes arrests in at least five states, making him qualified to help others who make mistakes.

"I was the most violent, the most sexually perverse, the most adulterated," Barnes said, declining to elaborate on his crimes. "It's my belief I was one of the worst sinners and Jesus Christ saved me from my wretched mind. But this is not a Danny Barnes issue. It's about the parents and the little baby who lost her life."

Some residents say the issues are indeed related. Todd Amborn said he was saddened but not surprised to hear about the violence inside the church, where Wheaton police have responded to numerous complaints.

"Right now he's running damage control for the church," said Amborn, who has lived in Wheaton for about 20 years and said many residents want Barnes and his church to leave.

Barnes said he's not going anywhere.

"We believe that there's going to be people in the community and in other denominations who want to find fault or take issue with what took place and take the low road," he said. "But we intend to stay together."

Hankins said the argument started after he called Collins to arrange a time to pick up the washer and dryer, which was being stored on Collins' porch. Hankins said he had been living at the church for most of nine months but recently closed on a house. Collins became angry about the washer and dryer because Hankins owed him $20, Hankins said.

On Thursday, Collins confronted Hankins at a thrift store and the two had to be separated, according to a criminal complaint.

Collins then went to Kennedy's apartment, where Kennedy loaned him a baseball bat, and to the church, where Hankins was attending a prayer service, Police Chief Michael Johannsen wrote in the complaint.

Collins confronted Hankins at the back of the church while Hankins was trying to seat his daughter and began swinging the bat over Hankins' head, Johannsen wrote. One blow hit Aundrea in the head above her right ear, the complaint states.

Collins fled to Kennedy's, where he threw away the bat, and then to Brookings S.D., 100 miles away, where Barnes found him hours later at a bar.

Hankins called Collins' anger out of character: "We're talking about a guy that cooked dinner for the church here that I wouldn't mind sending my daughter to the store with or going by his house to play with the dog."


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