Federal Indictment Returned in Pee Dee Kidnapping and Carjacking
Local and Federal Authorities Work Together to Save Pastor’s Life after he was Taken Hostage by Armed Assailant
FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA — United States Attorney Corey F. Ellis announced today that a federal grand jury in Florence returned an indictment in connection with a kidnapping and carjacking that began in Florence and ended with the successful recovery of the victim and arrest of the suspected kidnapper in Lumberton, North Carolina.
Specifically, Joseph Alan Wright, a/k/a “Wiz”, 39, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of carjacking.
As charged in the indictment and an associated criminal complaint filed with the court, on December 21, 2021, Wright abducted his victim, a pastor at the Immanuel Baptist Church in Florence, at knifepoint at approximately 10:20 a.m. According to the complaint, Wright forced the pastor into his vehicle located in the church parking lot and then left at a high rate of speed.
Almost immediately, employees at Immanuel Baptist Church realized that something was wrong and contacted the police. Attempts to contact the pastor on his cell phone were unsuccessful, so the Florence Police Department began attempts to locate him through various other electronic means, including obtaining information from OnStar, cell phone providers, and bank card use records. The complaint further states that officers also promptly reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for additional assistance upon discovering that a kidnapping had occurred.
Through these efforts, officers swiftly located the stolen vehicle in Lumberton, North Carolina, at approximately 12:09 p.m. – less than two hours after the incident began. Florence Police officers communicated this information to the Lumberton Police Department, who sent officers to locate the vehicle, rescue the pastor, and arrest Wright, all without incident.
“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. The complaint and indictment here illustrate that when we do that, we can save lives,” said U.S. Attorney Ellis. “The swift, collaborative work of the Florence Police Department, the Lumberton Police Department, and the FBI likely prevented an even greater tragedy.”
“This incident, as traumatic as it was for the victim, could have turned out much worse,” said FBI Columbia Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic. “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. The FBI along with other law enforcement partners will continue to root out violent offenders who place others in harm’s way.”
“We want to take this opportunity to thank our federal law enforcement partners for seeking this indictment,” said Chief Allen Heidler of the Florence Police Department. “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.”
Wright faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted. Wright, who is currently in federal custody at the Florence County Detention Center as a result of the federal criminal complaint previously filed against him in this case, will be arraigned by a United States Magistrate Judge at the McMillan Federal Courthouse in Florence on February 3, 2022, at 2:30 p.m.
The case was investigated by a joint team consisting of the Florence Police Department, the Lumberton Police Department, and the FBI. Assistant United States Attorneys Everett E. McMillian and Lauren Hummel are prosecuting the federal case in close coordination with the 12th Circuit Solicitors’ Office.
The United States Attorney stated that all charges in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.