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John Padula summoned courage in the wake of a church shooting to foster hope and fellowship

John Padula, outreach pastor at the Altar Church in Coeur d’Alene, talked about miracles Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, at the church in Coeur d’Alene. He was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year after a man gunned down the Rev. Tim Remington in the church parking lot. Remington survived and is recovering. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

COEUR D’ALENE – John Padula was doing his best to hold it together and display courage in the face of an unthinkable act of violence. The man he considered a mentor, father figure and close friend was in intensive care, his body riddled with bullet wounds.

“The first night I saw him in the hospital, seeing him laying there on breathing tubes and all that, it was rough,” Padula said.

And then the police told him the man who tried to kill the Rev. Tim Remington outside the Altar Church also wanted him dead. Officers were assigned to protect Padula, his pregnant wife and their two young children at their Post Falls home.

The drama unfolded in March, starting with the ambush of Remington after Sunday church services, the morning after Remington had prayed with Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas at a campaign rally in Coeur d’Alene.

The shooting set off an intense manhunt for the suspect, Kyle Andrew Odom, a 30-year-old former Marine and University of Idaho graduate who had a history of mental illness.

Two days later and 2,000 miles away, the U.S. Secret Service arrested Odom outside the White House as he tried to deliver a message to the president. The threat was over, but Remington was just beginning a painful recovery from being shot six times at close range with a .45-caliber pistol. His survival was heralded as a true miracle by members of the church and many others near and far.

Padula, the Altar’s outreach pastor, and other church leaders stepped up to tend the flock and direct the nondenominational church’s busy drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, Good Samaritan.

In between visits to the hospital, meetings at the church and court hearings on behalf of criminal defendants seeking rehab, Padula became the face and voice of Altar Church through a wave of media coverage of the attack on Remington, the hunt for the assailant and the search for a motive.

Terrie Cooper, Remington’s former secretary, has known Padula since they were in middle school together. In the days and weeks after the shooting, she saw him answer a call to serve.

“That’s the Holy Spirit. John rose up,” Cooper said. “John came from a place that most of us came from, and the Lord completely and totally changed him.”

Remington said he was impressed with how much Padula took on and how prepared he was.

“He just said, ‘I’ll take care of it, whatever it is.’ It really was a God-thing, because he wasn’t trained for it,” he said. “He’s really off the wall, believe it or not. The guy’s an evangelist at heart, and so his organizational skills really lack. But during this time, it’s like, man, he just took the bull by the horns and he never let go. He did absolutely fabulous.”

Padula is humble about his contribution.

“I just knew there were needs that needed met, and I just started doing what I felt was right,” he said. “It just ended up being what it was.”

It was, in reality, a remarkable display of leadership for a man who came to the church an ex-convict strung out on methamphetamine.

Padula, 38, entered the Good Samaritan program on Dec. 5, 2008, and it changed his life.

“I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. He freed me from a whole life of sin,” he said.

Padula had been kicked out of school in Kellogg, and then booted from the Lakeland School District for selling speed in the seventh grade. His formal education ended there, and he started using meth when he was 13 years old.

He moved with his father to Las Vegas, where he said he got mixed up in gang and drug activity, then returned to North Idaho. After 17 years of meth use, 21 years of pornography addiction, six years in prison, violent behavior, dealing drugs, clashes with police, ruining his teeth – it all came to an end when he met Tim Remington.

“God spared me and gave me a new heart,” Padula said.

Impatient, he left Good Samaritan early to start ministering in the community, then lived with a mentor from the church. Later, he got his own place, just 850 square feet, and invited 13 other men to move in with him, many of them friends battling drug addictions.

“I was just trying to help them get through their stuff, and it just kind of grew from there,” he said. “I’ve never not had people live with me since I’ve come to know Jesus.”

Even today, he and his wife, Amanda, open their home to graduates of Good Samaritan for six-month outpatient housing.

On March 6, following the two Sunday morning services, Padula received a text message from his wife inviting him to join her for lunch with her family. They ate out, and as soon as he got home, “I walked in the door and got the phone call.”

Youth Pastor Danny Cleave was on the phone, screaming that Pastor Tim had just been shot. Padula jumped in his pickup truck and raced back, driving on the shoulder to pass cars.

“I went straight to the hospital because I didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. I just wanted to be able to see him,” he said.

Remington was in surgery. “People were flooding into the emergency room, and we all circled up and prayed,” Padula said.

“Pastor Tim is like my best friend,” he said. “He has been my dad, he has been my spiritual father, he has been my example of faith. I’ve never had a relationship like I’ve had with him. So this was tough.”

Back at the church on Best Avenue, a church secretary was going over surveillance videos with police detectives. They called Padula to the scene. “They wanted me to come down and go over the video, because I know pretty much everybody who would be here,” he said.

But once there, he had to stand outside for a couple of hours before he was allowed inside the church. He feared the delay was letting the shooter get farther away by the minute. “I wasn’t very nice about it. … Somebody needs to find out who that guy is right now to stop him.”

Yet under repeated questioning by reporters and church members arriving at the police tape, Padula displayed a calm demeanor and issued reassurances that Remington would be fine.

“I sure didn’t feel calm,” he admitted, reflecting on that chaotic day. “Inside, I felt complete turmoil, but I also knew that there was a lot of people here who could panic really quick. A lot of people in our congregation are really new, and certain things could trigger them to panic or freak out. I tried my best – I didn’t feel like I did a very good job of it – but I tried to be as calm as I could on the outside.”

Church leaders were hearing conflicting updates on Remington’s condition. “People were putting stuff out on Facebook saying he was dead,” Padula said. “And we’re getting these reports and wanted to get to the bottom of that. Inside, I did have a lot of questions, not knowing if he was going to make it or not.”

Soon he received word from the hospital that none of Remington’s wounds was life-threatening.

Functioning on little sleep, Padula went back to work Monday, attending initial court appearances for users who may qualify for rehab. Then he returned to the church offices for a meeting.

“My phone fried from getting so many calls,” he recalled. “It was brand new, 128 gig, it literally fried. So my phone wasn’t working, and I was getting ready to go to AT&T and get another phone, and the secretary came in and said there was an officer here who needed to talk to me.”

The officer told Padula they had some concern for his safety and needed to speak with him at the police station. “I said, ‘All right, I’ll meet you there,’ and he said, ‘No, you’re going to ride with me.’ ”

Padula learned the shooting suspect had been studying him as well as Remington and had referred to them by name in a rambling manifesto detailing his belief that Martians were trying to sexually enslave him. Extraterrestrials controlled the minds of the two Altar pastors, Odom wrote, and he sketched a disturbing, reptilian depiction of his Martian tormentors.

“He had talked about me and pastor like he had already shot and killed us,” Padula said.

He and his family were given police protection in case the gunman returned. Padula phoned Amanda, advising her to pack up and leave the house.

“She didn’t just up and run. She kept herself together,” he said. “She knew God was in control. She was just very loving and supportive through the whole thing.”

The following night they learned of Odom’s apprehension in Washington, D.C. “The SWAT team was at my house when they caught him,” Padula said.

Just 59 days after he was shot, Remington was back at his church preaching every other week. He recovered much faster than his doctors expected, though he has lost his ability to play piano at worship because of a shattering bullet wound in his right arm.

He expressed gratitude for those who stepped into his shoes this year.

“One of the hardest things in the world for me is thinking if anything happened to me, then what would happen to the church,” he said. “For 23 years, it’s been me trying to figure out how to keep it going, with Good Samaritan also. It’s been a real challenge.”

Remington remembers lying in his hospital bed, worrying about church matters. His wife reassured him that Padula and others, including Associate Pastor Kurt Neely and Good Samaritan facilities director Justine Fellows, were soundly in charge.

The experience allowed Padula to mature as a leader and acquire new skills, Remington said.

“This year’s been huge for him,” he said. “He went from a spastic little kid in a candy store to an adult who wants to run the candy store.

“He just hit the streets and worked tirelessly. He just kept going and going.”

Today the church is thriving, Padula said.

“We have an amazing congregation and an absolute amazing staff here. When this happened, everybody just rose to the occasion, everybody took a bunch of the burden, and they just ran with it,” he said.

The shooting brought people closer and even offset denominational divisions, he said.

“I think it has brought a deeper sense of unity into our congregation, and not only ours. We’ve had people from churches all across the community, even across the nation, call and want to support and be a part of what’s going on,” Padula said.

For him, too, this year has brought more joy than heartache. He and Amanda welcomed their third child, Ezekiel. When Padula arrives for Sunday morning services, dressed in suit and tie, he is greeted warmly by friends.

“I love God and I was in love with Jesus before all this happened,” he said. “But just to see the miracle of it and the mercy of it, yeah, it really brought me a lot closer to the Lord.”