CHICKASHA, Okla. — For Kenneth Cartwright, “Pastor Mike” was one of the first people he came to know in Chickasha.
“To recover, you have to let go of all of your friends, you can’t talk to your old friends, and I didn’t know anybody here,” said Cartwright, “and Pastor Mike was one of the first people I got to know.”
And as word spread that Pastor Michael Walworth’s burned body was found outside his church and home early Friday morning, Cartwright feels stunned by the loss.
Especially for a person he connected with — a pastor whose flock consisted mostly of ex-convicts, addicts or just others looking for guidance.
Cartwright says he became addicted to pain killers after a severe injury on an oil rig a couple years ago and eventually turned to street drugs once the prescription medicine ran dry.
“I was on the hardest pain pills there was and then there’s nothing there. So what do you do, I turned to street drugs and that’s how I got addicted to methamphetamines.”
To get clean, he left his hometown of Binger and moved to Chickasha and what drew him to Walworth was his ability to relate.
“The work he’s done with the people — the addicts — everybody relates to Pastor Mike.”
Police were called to First Missionary Baptist Church at 1401 South 12th Street shortly before 8 a.m. Friday. Family members tell NewsChannel 4 Walworth’s sister found him between his home and church, his body burned.
“I can`t wrap my head around it,” said neighbor Dallas Morris, who knew something was off when he didn’t see Walworth, 55, that morning and later saw police.
“For something like this to happen, it`s devastating,” said Morris. “He was a great man. a good friend, a great neighbor.”
Walworth did have a criminal past. Court records show he was a registered sex offender in Texas, pleading guilty to indecent exposure with a child in 1998. A fact that his family says he didn’t shy away from, but used to help minister to others.
The Baptist Missionary Association of Oklahoma says Walworth “had a heart for helping people.”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation says its crime scene unit was called out to help process the scene, but Chickasha police are handling the investigation.
“How the fire was set and cause of Walworth’s death are under investigation at this time,” the department said in a statement. “The thoughts and prayers of the members of the Chickasha Police Department are with the family and friends of Pastor Michael Walworth during this most difficult time.”
Authorities say this is an isolated incident and the public is not in any danger.