“At the service, what everybody recognized and accepted is that he died obedient to God and that his salvation is assured,” said Hood.
At church service on Saturday, a week after Coots died, both Cody Coots and his mother handled the rattler that killed his father, said Williamson, who attended the service. Calls to the Coots family have not been returned.
Williamson said he has documented 91 snake bite deaths among serpent handlers since 1919; Between 350 and 400 people die from snake bites in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Williamson said questions of why a snake-handling believer dies from a bite are no different from the questions believers of various faiths have about why bad things happen to good people.
Coots’ death was the second snake bite death at his church, which was founded in 1978. Melinda Brown, a 28-year-old mother of five, died in 1995, two days after she was bitten by a rattlesnake during a service.
Coots was then a 23-year-old pastor, and Brown spent the two days it took her to die at Coots’ house. At the time, Coots told reporters that Brown had decided to put her fate in God’s hands rather than go to the hospital.
“Everything that happened, where it happened, was the Lord’s will,” Coots said.
Brown’s husband, John Wayne “Punkin” Brown, continued to handle serpents after his wife’s death. He was killed by a snake in 1998, at the age of 34, while preaching at an Alabama church.
His last words to the congregation were, “No matter what else, God’s still God.”