Man admits to kidnapping pastor from church in Florence, pleads guilty

By Tonya Brown (WPDE)

Joseph Alan Wright, 39, pled guilty Thursday morning in federal court to kidnapping and carjacking of a pastor back in December from his church on Cherokee Road in Florence.

The kidnapping ended with the successful rescue of the pastor and arrest of Wright.

 

Joseph Alan Wright, also referred to as “Wiz”, 39, of Fayetteville, NC, was charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of carjacking. (Credit: Florence County Detention Center)

 

The Honorable Sherri A Lydon accepted Wright’s plea under the conditions he understood the nature of the charges against him.

U. S. Attorney Everett Eugene McMillan prosecuted the case on behalf of the government.

McMillan said he’s glad that the case is being resolved with a guilty plea by Wright.

This particular crime happened from a place where someone should be their safest. From a sanctuary. And our entire community should be a sanctuary from violent crime. And, it’s our goal to turn it back that way. Our office is engaged with many local offices. The Florence Police Department, in this case. The sheriff’s office. Myrtle Beach, or Horry County. All of the local agencies that we can. To try and address violent crime. And that we are continuing to do so this summer. This is just one of many cases that we are engaging in trying to curb the violent crime problem. That’s plaguing our communities right now,” said McMillan.

On Dec. 21, 2021, Wright reportedly abducted Rev. Charles M. Pittman, Jr. at the Immanuel Baptist Church in Florence, at knifepoint around 10:20 a.m., according to an associated criminal complaint filed with the court.

 

Rev. Charles M. Pittman, Jr. recounts the day he was kidnapped from the church he pastors (Credit: WPDE)

 

According to the complaint, Wright forced Pittman into his vehicle located in the church parking lot and then left at a high rate of speed.

Almost immediately, the complaint said that church employees realized that something was wrong and contacted the police.

They tried to contact the pastor on his cell phone but were not able to reach him, so the Florence Police Dept. began trying to locate him through other electronic means, such as obtaining information from OnStar, cell phone providers, and bank card use records, according to a release from the Dept. of Justice.

The complaint also said that officers promptly reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for additional assistance after learning about the kidnapping.

Officers were then able to swiftly locate the stolen vehicle in Lumberton around 12:09 p.m., which was less than two hours after the incident began, according to the release.

 

Cars at Immanuel Baptist Church (Credit: WPDE)

 

Florence Police officers told this to the Lumberton Police Dept., who sent officers to locate the vehicle, rescue Pittman, and arrest Wright, all without incident, the release said.

Pittman was in court for Wright’s hearing and said seeing him took him back to the day of the incident.

“It brought back memories of that day. I was also thinking that this is a step closer to being officially resolved. Just the process is working like it should. And that justice is being taken care of,” said Pittman.

Pittman’s wife of nearly 43 years, Marcia, said it wasn’t easy to see Wright.

“My heart sank. When Mr. Wright walked into the court room. Because for me it was the first time to ever see him. And I wanted to look at him and say why? Why would you do this? But, then the Lord reminded me, to God be the glory. Because he protected the love of my life. I just can’t express how thankful I am to everyone. But, especially to the Lord,” said Marcia Pittman.

Wright admitted to each count in the indictment.

“I’m guilty, your honor,” said Wright.

Wright will be sentenced in about 90 days.

McMillan said the federal charge carries a sentence of up to life in prison.

“ In this case there will be a sentencing report for the judge. And ultimately it will be up to the judge. But, before she decides that, she’ll hear from us. And most importantly she’ll hear from the victim. And he will have an opportunity to share his view of things. And I am sure she will take all of that into account. When deciding the appropriate sentence,” explained McMillan.

Pittman said he prays for Wright, but believes he should suffer the consequences for his actions.

“Forgiveness is necessary. It is needed. But there is also the idea of accountability. And that there are consequences for her actions. What ever they are. And I think that is appropriate here too,” said Pittman.

Pittman and his wife said they’re thankful this awful situation will soon be resolved and over.

“For me, it is such a relief. It is such a relief that we don’t have to do that. And go through just the pressure of that. And in a lot of ways reliving that again. It’s just one of those things that we can move forward. Put it behind us. And we are just grateful to God for getting us through this process. For being with us and taking care of us,” said Pittman.

The case was investigated by a joint team including the Florence Police Dept., the Lumberton Police Dept., and the FBI.

Wright remains in federal custody at the Florence County Detention Center.

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