Members of the church, and especially the leaders of the church, should be beacons of fellowship, patience, peace, and forgiveness. Unfortunately, even members of the church are human beings, and therefore prone to display flawed behavior…
One Missouri pastor would show that no matter how highly regarded members of the church can be, they’re also sometimes capable of committing unspeakable crimes.
When police questioned David Fitzgerald, a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Maryland Heights, Missouri, he told them that Bruce had previously been a pastor at Calvary Chapel of Cape Girardeau. Both churches are affiliated under the same ministry, and Fitzgerald knew Bruce personally. According to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, Bruce was also the head of another nonprofit church formed in 2003, which dissolved four years later.
Having entered the religious supplies store in Ballwin, a southwestern suburb of St. Louis, Bruce pulled out a gun and forced Jamie Schmidt and two other women who haven’t been named into a back room. Once there, he ordered all three women to undress, but what happened next was even more shocking. This ex-pastor had clearly lost his senses and a terrible crime was about to happen.
At this stage of the investigation, even the police were bashful to provide full details of what Bruce is alleged to have done to his three victims. Beyond saying that he forced them to “continue performing deviant sexual acts on him,” at least one charge of sodomy has been brought against him. One of the women who refused the sex acts was shot and killed by Bruce according to a St. Louis Post Dispatch report.
A two-day manhunt then took place as police desperately tried to find the perpetrator of the crimes as quickly as possible. Detectives interviewed other employees at the mall, one of whom said she received a business card the day before. After his discarded card was found in the trash, and a tip from a member of the public, police arrested the suspect at his trailer as he sat drinking coffee. Many people were shocked by the alleged actions of this ex-pastor, a man who was highly respected by the community for many years.
Out of Character
Pastor Fitzgerald told reporters that while Bruce had only spoken occasionally in public since his church folded, he thought the crime was totally out of character for this man. “It was completely out of character for the Tom Bruce that I knew, completely surprising,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the amount of evidence against him I would think they’ve got the wrong guy.”
Just days before the shooting at the store, Bruce had been on Facebook again, touting his views on gun-free zones. He wrote that he wanted to “end gun-free zones and put the criminals on notice that they will be stopped,” on a British forum discussing gun rights. Bruce appeared eloquent in his back-and-forth exchange in the forum, making his views abundantly clear.
In one post on the forum, Bruce wrote: “In England today you cannot carry any type of weapon for self-defense, and you cannot use a firearm to defend your home, family, or property. … The gun and weapon laws have made crime safe for criminals and the other violent thugs.”
Fitzgerald explained that he had never had occasion to talk to Bruce about things like gun ownership, politics or social issues and hadn’t seen him or spoken to him for around three years. “There’s just nothing in my relationship with Tom in the past that would indicate this type of behavior in the least,” he said. “People are people, but I tend to hold people in the ministry to a higher standard.”
Bruce didn’t hide his views, and online forums and social media were the perfect places for him to discuss them openly. An avid supporter of President Donald Trump, he frequently slammed Democrats and others who criticized the president. Bruce was all over social media, and some were not surprised when he turned out to be a violent man and ultimately a murderer.
One thing that is clear from Bruce’s social media activity is the fact that he was not very stable in his life or with his employment. Bruce often moved from place to place, living in trailers and other such accommodations, and he also switched jobs every few years to make ends meet. Bruce was also recently divorced from his wife Diane and was in some substantial debt.
When police searched Bruce’s trailer, they found an American flag and a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on a pole outside the trailer. Cops found paperwork showing he was in debt due to his divorce and a lack of income. They also found several firearms and boxes of ammunition at the location, all belonging to Bruce. They included an AR-15 Bushmaster and three handguns, one of them a Glock 43.
Having served in the military, Bruce was unemployed at the time of the shooting at the store but was receiving an annual military stipend of about $1,600. Police know that Bruce describes himself as a Navy veteran but are unclear as to whether he saw any real combat and if he may have suffered from PTSD.
According to one neighbor in the trailer park who lives across from Bruce, “I never saw him outside much at all, and I lived here long before he did,” said Joseph R. Blumer. But Bruce had taken a job a year ago as a staffer working for an American Family Insurance agent in Maryland Heights. Ken Muth from the company told police that Bruce hadn’t shown up for work for an extended period and hadn’t called in sick.
According to Bruce’s LinkedIn profile, as well as working at the Calvary Chapel, he also claimed to have worked at the Jewish Community Center of Greater St. Louis, as well as doing volunteer work at the Missouri Veterans Home in Cape Girardeau. But it’s unclear if these claims are even true, especially the one listing him as a life member of VFW Post 4105 in Florissant, Missouri.
While Bruce’s profile claimed he was a “World traveled leader with the ability to turn the extraordinary into the ordinary,” Barb Johnson, a bartender at the VFW post, said there are no records of Bruce ever even being a member. “He doesn’t look familiar to any of us,” Johnson said.
Following Bruce’s arrest, St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch dubbed the crime as “heartbreaking,” at a press conference. That sentiment was echoed by the county’s police chief, Jon Belmar who said the crime “shocked the senses.” While two of the women complied with Bruce’s sexual demands when the third woman refused, he shot her in the head in cold blood.
According to a CBS News report, McCulloch said there was no indication the store was targeted due to religious affiliation. “It seems to me a guy like this saw an opportunity – three women in the store alone,” McCulloch said. But Bruce had no criminal record to speak of, other than a traffic ticket issued back in 2001.
McCulloch also told reporters that the “aggravating circumstances” surrounding the crimes could make Bruce eligible for the death penalty. However, that decision needs to be taken by the incoming country prosecutor, Wesley Bell, who defeated McCulloch in the recent election. Many feel that the death penalty is warranted in this case and prosecutors will almost certainly be suggesting it.
According to the most recent reports, Bruce has been charged with a total of 17 criminal counts including murder, kidnapping, multiple counts of sodomy, armed criminal action, burglary and tampering with evidence. For his part, Bruce is yet to enter a plea and is being held without bail.
The Schmidt family are grieving for their loss and have paid tribute to their loved one whose life was tragically ended. At a memorial honoring her, her husband described her: “She was my angel, my partner, my best friend and the love of my life. … I’m sorry if you never got to hear her sing recently because it gave me chills.”