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Conflict & Tragedy

Snake-handling reality show preacher dies from snakebite

Pentecostal Pastor Jamie Coots, best known as a snake-handling Appalachian preacher on the reality show “Snake Salvation,” died Saturday evening in Middlesboro, Ky., after refusing to be treated for a snakebite, CNN reported Sunday.

Coots and members of his church believed a passage about snake-handling in the Gospel of Mark should be taken literally, according to an interview he gave The Associated Press in February 2013. He said at the time he and members of his church had been serpent handling “for 20 or 21 years.”

His son, Cody Coots, told local television station WBIR his father had suffered eight snakebites in the past, so he wasn’t immediately concerned after the snake bit him Saturday night.

“I thought, well, it’s like any other service. You know, somebody got bit, gonna go home, gonna suffer. Anytime you lose your daddy or mommy, you never see it comin’,” Cody Coots told the station.

It was not clear from media reports what type of snake bit Coots, but the AP reported that in January 2013, Coots was arrested for transporting three rattlesnakes and two copperheads through Knoxville, Tenn. He entered a guilty plea to charges of illegal wildlife possession and was given one year unsupervised probation, the AP said.

The fatal bite Saturday was not the first deadly snakebite at the church, according to the AP. In 1995, Melinda Brown, 28, died after being bitten by a 4-foot-long timber rattlesnake at Coots’ church.

The National Geographic Channel began airing “Snake Salvation” in September 2013. The “About the Show” section of the website describes the program as follows:

In the hills of Appalachia, Pentecostal pastors Jamie Coots and Andrew Hamblin struggle to keep an over-100-year-old tradition alive: The practice of handling deadly snakes in church. Jamie and Andrew believe in a bible passage that suggests a poisonous snakebite will not harm them as long as they are anointed by God’s power. If they don’t practice the ritual of snake handling, they believe they are destined for hell. Hunting the surrounding mountains for deadly serpents and maintaining their church’s snake collection is a way of life for both men. The pastors must frequently battle the law, a disapproving society, and even at times their own families to keep their way of life alive.

The National Geographic Channel sent CNN a statement after learning Coots’ death, Fox News reported.

“In following Pastor Coots for our series Snake Salvation, we were constantly struck by his devout religious convictions despite the health and legal peril he often faced.

“Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith. We were honored to be allowed such unique access to Pastor Jamie and his congregation during the course of our show, and give context to his method of worship. Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

Coots was the pastor at Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro.