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Iowa pastor who helped public safety agencies dies after being attacked at his church, police say

Posted: 12:17 PM, Oct 06, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-06 15:21:12-04
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(CNN) -- Police officers and firefighters around Fort Dodge, Iowa, loved the Rev. Al Henderson.

Supporting those public safety workers became a second calling for Henderson, a Lutheran minister. For instance, when an officer had to knock on a door and tell a family a loved one had died in an auto accident, Henderson often accompanied them, Fort Dodge police Chief Roger Porter told CNN.

"He was the person we leaned on for that," Porter said, adding that Henderson would sometimes stay behind to counsel the family, even if he'd never met them before.

And Henderson helped officers through difficult times by serving as the chaplain for four public safety agencies in the area -- the police department, the Fort Dodge Fire Department, the Webster County Sheriff's Office and the Iowa State Patrol office. He wore a uniform with two patches on each sleeve, Porter said.

"We looked upon him as a brother," Porter said.

Now Henderson's death is being investigated by some of the same officers he counseled.

Henderson, 64, was found unresponsive late Wednesday afternoon outside the church he led, St. Paul Lutheran, according to a news release from Fort Dodge police.

"Information obtained from witnesses in the area, as well as other evidence, indicated a confrontation of some sort had occurred in or just outside the church," the news release said.

Henderson was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead because of "injuries consistent with an assault," the news release said.

Joshua Pendleton, 36, of Fort Dodge was quickly taken into custody not far from the church, police said. He faces charges of murder in the first degree and robbery in the first degree and is being held in the Webster County Jail.

Pendleton briefly appeared in court on Thursday morning, but the hearing was continued until Friday. He is represented by the public defender's office, which did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Police have not provided a motive or said how Henderson was killed.

But they're sure that Henderson's death will leave a void in Fort Dodge, a city of about 25,000 people located 95 miles north of Des Moines.

"A lot of us in this profession unfortunately see a lot of tragic incidents that can affect us and he was always there for us to offer his support and kind words to help us through any kind of incident," Ryan Gruenberg, spokesman for Fort Dodge police, told CNN affiliate KCCI.

"And he was just always there to lighten the mood and bring a smile on all our faces."

The Messenger newspaper in Fort Dodge said Henderson was deeply involved with Serving Our Servants, which supported public safety agencies and was recently profiled by the paper. SOS provided water and food at major incidents and raised money to buy the Fort Dodge police officers new dress caps for formal occasions, the Messenger said.

"He was a beloved member of our family and we are working with heavy hearts this evening as we move forward from this tragic incident," police said in a statement.