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April 25, 2013

School locked down as authorities arrest fugitive in area

A Cullman County school was locked down Thursday as authorities apprehended a fugitive from Oklahoma, who was wanted on second-degree rape charges.

A law enforcement agency in Oklahoma contacted the Cullman Police Department to report that the fugitive was likely living in Cullman. Once police obtained the person’s name, a search began that led officers to Good Hope, where Cullman County Sheriff’s Office deputies became involved.

The suspect, Christopher Thomas Church, 21, Oilton, Okla., and a former Cullman resident, was never on the campus of the school, Sheriff Mike Rainey said. Deputies aiding in the search arrested the man in a heavily wooded area south of Good Hope around 11:30 a.m.

Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said the city department had eight outstanding warrants on Church for various traffic violations. He said similar warrants were pending in Hanceville.

Police officers Joey Duncan and Adam Walker had been searching for Church for two days when they received information he had been staying with a friend in Good Hope. The officers went to the house, but just missed the suspect. He had been dropped off near a wooded area by an acquaintance.

“There was a nationwide extradition issued on Mr. Church. Rape, of course, is a serious crime and the sheriff made the decision to lock down the school. The sheriff’s office did a tremendous job in this situation and their deputies apprehended the suspect,” Duncan said.

The city police department sent a search helicopter to the area, which Duncan believes forced the suspect out of the deeper wooded area into sight.

“He was in some pretty thick woods with creeks. There was a lot of area to search. The search, overall, took about one and half hours,” Duncan said.

Church was unarmed and did not resist arrest when deputies spotted him, Duncan said.

County schools superintendent Billy Coleman said he was grateful that the sheriff’s office acted quickly to lock down the school.

“Nothing happened on campus, it was a precautionary move,” Coleman said. “The sheriff’s office was great in letting us know what was going and making sure our school was secure. Everything was handled very well.”

Church is being held in the Cullman County Detention Center on warrants from the traffic warrants and as a fugitive from justice. He will be extradited to Oklahoma.

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