Search for Florida Man Suspected in Triple Homicide Intensifies

POST UPDATED, 8:30AM — see bottom of story for latest report.

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – A search was under way for a man suspected in the fatal shooting of a pastor at a Florida church, as well as the murders of his wife and another woman at a nearby home, by authorities investigating a triple homicide on the state’s Gulf Coast.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to reports of a church shooting around 1:20 p.m., according to a news release. While at the scene, they learned about two more people slain at a nearby home in Bradenton, located about 45 miles south of Tampa.

Authorities were searching for Andres “Andy” Avalos, 33, who may be armed and dangerous, Dave Bristow, a spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters.

He was last seen driving a gold 2003 Chevrolet Suburban in Bradenton, authorities said.

The male victim was James Battle, 31, a pastor at Bayshore Baptist Church in Bradenton, where the shooting occurred outside a residence on the grounds used as an office, Bristow said.

According to the church website, Battle went by the nickname “Tripp.” His wife was the church secretary, and they had two young children.

Also killed was Amber Avalos, 33, the wife of the suspect, who was the church’s nursery and children’s director, according to the website, which said she and her husband had six children.

Authorities said the children were in protective custody.

The third victim was identified as Denise Potter, 46, a neighbor, according to local media reports. The killings appeared to involve a domestic dispute, authorities told reporters.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Walsh)

UPDATE: Suspect’s car found as manhunt continues in Florida triple murder

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) – A manhunt intensified on Friday for a suspect accused of killing his wife and her friend before shooting dead a pastor at a Florida church, after police said they had found the SUV the man was last seen driving but were still searching for him.

Andres “Andy” Avalos’ gold Chevrolet Suburban was found late Thursday at a Walmart store near the crime scenes of the triple homicide in Bradenton, Florida, about 45 miles south of Tampa, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said.

Earlier in the day, Avalos, 33, allegedly shot dead pastor James “Tripp” Battle, 31, at Bayshore Baptist Church after killing his own wife and her friend at a nearby home, according to authorities.

Police have not said how Amber Avalos, also 33, and Denise Potter, 46, died.

Amber Avalos was the nursery and children’s director at the church and had six children with her husband, according to the church’s website. The children were all safe, police have said.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins)