The news of the tragic deaths of Pastors Johnny and Mary Benge on Tuesday sent waves of sadness across the Laurel community.
The Benges were co-pastors of Gospel Tabernacle Church of God and were well known across the county and surrounding counties for their faith. The couple was found shot to death in their home on Tomcat Trail just before 5 p.m. Their son was captured later that night in Mayfield, Ky., and is now housed in the Laurel County Correctional Center, held under $500,000 bond on charges of murder, robbery and theft of an automobile.
But their lives are what friends and family are remembering in the wake of their untimely deaths.
Ina Mae Holt knew the Benges for many years and said she was still shocked by the news.
"I was speechless," she said. "They were two of the finest people you could ever meet. Johnny preached at the Old Crab Orchard church for years and years. They were wonderful people and it's hard to cope with this. He and Cecil Benge were very close and sang at churches all over the place. It's uncountable the good things that I could say about them."
Rickey Gilley also knew the Benge family.
"I worked with his wife Mary at Mrs. Smith's bakery. She was a nice woman," Gilley said. "And I went to school with their son Johnny, who is also a preacher. They were all good people."
Darrell Johnson attended Gospel Tabernacle church and said he was having difficulty dealing with their deaths.
"There was no better preacher - he was strictly a Bible man," he said. "It's something hard for me to cope with. I used to take my mom to his church and he and his son Johnny preached my mom's funeral and Johnny married me and my wife Elaine."
Johnson said he hadn't heard any plans as to the future of the church since the deaths of Johnny and Mary Benge.
"I don't know what will happen," he said. "His son - we call him Little Johnny even though he's bigger than his daddy - has his own church and I don't know if he will come back and continue what his dad started. I just haven't heard anything. But I do know it will be hard going back into that church and him not being there."
Johnson said he was at church on Sunday night - the last sermon that Benge preached - which was about being forgiving.
"He preached from Matthew where it talks about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Matthew 5:38-42). He started feeling the spirit and you could tell he was anointed," Johnson added. "He would always say at the end of every sermon that he wanted to live as long as he could and that he wanted to make it to Heaven. He'd say, 'I sure want to make it, don't you?' And I believe that if anybody made it, he did."
Johnny Benge retired from Parsley Tire, where he was also well respected, Johnson added. Mary Sue Saylor-Benge worked at the Clay County Detention Center as a cook. The couple had been married for 48 years.
Funeral services for Johnny and Mary Benge will be held at House-Rawlings Funeral Home on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. until the funeral hour.