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Police Search for Missing Family of Slain Minister

Police searched Thursday for the missing wife and three young children of a church minister who was found shot to death in his parsonage.

Investigators declined to say if the minister's wife was considered a suspect. Authorities also weren't sure if she had the children.

Minister Matthew Winkler was found dead late Wednesday by church members who went looking for him after he failed to show up for an evening service at Fourth Street Church of Christ, police said. Officials said there were no signs of forced entry and the family was gone.

An Amber Alert was issued Thursday for the couple's daughters, Breanna, 1, Mary Alice, 6, and Patricia, 8. The alert said the girls may be with their mother, Mary Winkler.

Selmer Police Chief Neal Burks said it was unclear whether the family was abducted.

"We're just really puzzled," Burks said. "We're concerned about the safety of the children, also."

Mary Winkler was last seen late Tuesday afternoon picking up the children from school, said Ed Jones, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation assistant director. Burks said she worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary school.

"They were a nice family," said former Mayor Jimmy Whittington, who said he worked with the pastor collecting donations for hurricane victims last year. "They just blended in."

Winkler was hired as minister in February 2005, said Wilburn Ash, an elder at the 200-member church in Selmer, a town of about 4,600 in western Tennessee. Ash said he never saw any conflict in the family.

"He seemed like he was real happy here, and we were happy with him," Ash said. "He preached the Bible. He didn't make his opinions known on what was popular or what was politically right. He just preached the Bible."

Pam Killingsworth, a church member and assistant principal at Selmer Elementary, where the Winkler children went to her school, said: "I can't believe this would happen."

"The kids are just precious, and she was precious," Killingsworth said, her eyes red from crying and her voice cracking at times. "He was the one of the best ministers we've ever had — just super charisma."

The Associate Press contributed to this story.