FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) — A man accused of abducting a Florence pastor at knifepoint in December and driving him to Lumberton will face federal charges after he was indicted on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Corey F. Ellis said.
The indictment returned by a grand jury in Florence charges Joseph Alan Wright, 39, also known as “Wiz,” of Fayetteville, North Carolina, with one count of kidnapping and one count of carjacking.
Police initially responded to the area of Cherokee Road and Coit Street on Dec. 21. They later determined that Wright had allegedly abducted the pastor of the Immanuel Baptist Church by forcing him into a vehicle located in the church parking lot about 10:20 a.m. and leaving at a high rate of speed, according to a news release from the U.S. attorney’s office.
Church employees realized almost immediately that something was wrong and contacted police, who tried unsuccessfully to contact the pastor on his cell phone. Police then began using other electronic means to locate him, including obtaining information from OnStar, cell phone providers and banking records.
Police located the stolen vehicle in Lumberton shortly after 12 p.m. and notified police there, the release said. Lumberton police then found the pastor and took Wright into custody without incident.
Wright faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted. He is currently in federal custody at the Florence County Detention Center. He is scheduled to be arraigned at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 3 at the McMillan Federal Courthouse in Florence.
“At its core, the mission of this office is to work with our law enforcement partners to protect the people of South Carolina and elsewhere,” Ellis said in the release. “The complaint and indictment here illustrate that when we do that, we can save lives. The swift, collaborative work of the Florence Police Department, the Lumberton Police Department, and the FBI likely prevented an even greater tragedy.”
FBI Columbia Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic said the incident, while traumatic, could have been much worse.
“Thankfully, our local partners with the Florence Police Department and law enforcement in North Carolina were quick to respond and safely brought this situation to an end,” she said. “The FBI along with other law enforcement partners will continue to root out violent offenders who place others in harm’s way.”
Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler praises the work of the other agencies.
“We want to take this opportunity to thank our federal law enforcement partners for seeking this indictment,” he said. “It serves as another notice to violent offenders that this area’s law enforcement, from the federal level down to the local level, will continue our collaborative efforts to bring them to justice.”