published Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Hundreds attend funeral of famed serpent-handling pastor Jamie Coots

Pastor Andrew Hamblin, left, speaks to community members gathered outside of the Creech Funeral Home in downtown Middlesboro, Kentucky, as friends and family pay their respects to the late Gregory James "Pastor Jamie" Coots who died of a snakebite earlier this week.
Pastor Andrew Hamblin, left, speaks to community members gathered outside of the Creech Funeral Home in downtown Middlesboro, Kentucky, as friends and family pay their respects to the late Gregory James "Pastor Jamie" Coots who died of a snakebite earlier this week.
Photo by Dan Henry.
  • photo
    Jamie Coots holds a rattlesnake while preaching in this December photo. Coots died Saturday after being bitten during a church service.
    Photo by The Tennessean /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

LATEST COVERAGE OF PASTOR JAMIE COOT'S DEATH

Snake-handling pastor obeyed to the end - Jamie Coots waves away help, dies from venomous bite

Pastor dies after snake he was handling bit him

SPECIAL REPORT

See “Even Unto Death,” our special report on snake handlers’ faith.

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. — Hundreds of mourners, reporters and the curious amassed for the visitation and funeral of famed serpent-handling pastor Jamie Coots on Tuesday in this Southeast Kentucky town of about 10,000.

Coots led the tiny congregation at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, but his notoriety was worldwide. Over the years, he's become one of the most visible Christian serpent handlers in the country, inviting outsiders and journalists in to witness his unique brand of faith.

Coots starred in National Geographic Channel's “Snake Salvation,” with his protege Andrew Hamblin, a 22-year-old pastor in LaFollette, Tenn. Each were recently featured in the Times Free Press' Feb 2 special report, “Even Unto Death.”

Coots, who has handled for more than two decades, has been bitten more than a half dozen times. He died at home Saturday night, just a few hours after a rattler struck his right hand during a church service. Like the other times, Coots and his family refused help from paramedics, relying instead on God.

Hundreds snaked through a line during the three-hour open-casket visitation, which was followed by a late evening funeral. The family has planned for a private burial later. Coots, 42, had no life insurance and the family was taking donations from friends and supporters online to pay for funeral costs.

As the family mourned inside, crowds filled the streets lining the downtown's main drag, Cumberland Avenue. Well wishers, and local veterans came out in support of the pastor and his family as rumors spread that the notorious Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. would come to protest, though they made no appearance.

Children hung over downtown balconies, and men and women smoked cigarettes and drank from Coke cans watching the spectacle. Angela Peace, who went to school with Coots and lives just down the road from his home, wasn't of his faith but came out to show support. She said she's never seen such a crowd in downtown Middlesboro.

“Not even for a parade," she said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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