Police I.D. woman shot inside church

January 24, 2008 4:46:02 PM PST
As friends and family gathered for a prayer service, the name of the woman found dead in a church was released.

Forty-two-year-old Rhonda Smith of Hellertown was remembered at a prayer vigil Thursday morning. It had to be held in a borrowed sanctuary because police had not yet cleared the crime scene at the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Smith joined the church about 18 months ago, according to Rev. Gregory Shreavesof the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. She was in the office, performing secretarial duties.

"She was a precious, wonderful child. She recently gave a testimony in our congregation to thank them for supporting her and loving her as a new member of a tiny congregation," Reverend Shreaves said. "She never indicated to me that there was anyone who would have been seeking revenge."

Judy Zellner, who spoke exclusively with Action News, says she's been shaking in her shoes ever since 1:00 p.m. Wednesday when she found the victim inside the church's main office.

Zellner says, "I'm the cleaning lady at the church and I went to clean and I just found the person who had been (shot)."

By that, Judy means she could tell the woman had been shot.

Smith was taken to St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem where she was pronounced dead some time later.

Judy says there didn't seem to be any sign of forced entry and no obvious sign of a struggle. Still, as of right now investigators are treating this as a homicide investigation. They expect to know more when the autopsy results are released Thursday.

Action News spoke with church members who are devastated by the news.

Kit Ballard tells Action News, "I couldn't believe it. In our little country church. Nothing like that happens in our little country church."

Meantime, Judy Zellner says she's simply not sure how she'll be able to return to the church she loves.

"I'm scared to death now to go back because I'm there all by myself ? several days a week I'm there cleaning.

So far no suspects, and no arrests.

Smith, diagnosed with a bipolar condition, long battled depression. The church had become a welcoming second home.

Her bewildered father spoke with the coroner today who told him the autopsy was conclusive with the gunshot being the cause of death.

"What's inconclusive is was it self-inflicted or was it not," James Smith said.

Smith is survived by her parents and a brother who is serving in Afghanistan. He is believed to be on his way back to Bucks County to be with the family.