Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

May 29, 2012

Snake handler dies at 44

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A Mercer County man who is believed to be the pastor in a faith that includes the handling of poisonous snakes as part of some religious services, was pronounced dead Monday morning at Bluefield Regional Medical Center.

A free-lance writer, Julia Duin, who has written stories on snake handling for the Washington Post Magazine and the Wall Street Journal, contacted the Bluefield Daily Telegraph Monday afternoon, asking for confirmation that Mark Randall Wolford, 44, of Green Valley, had died.

Duin said that she interviewed Wolford on Labor Day weekend in 2011, after meeting him at the Church of Lord Jesus in Jolo. Duin said the church in Jolo has long been known for observing a verse of scripture in the Book of Mark, Chapter 16; Verse 18: “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”

In her story that appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, Duin wrote that Wolford had conducted a service in Panther State Park in May 2011.  She called the Daily Telegraph after hearing from others who had attended this year’s service in Panther that Wolford had died after being bit by a snake late Sunday evening. The Post had contacted her, asking her to blog about it, and she had seen several posts on Facebook about it.

“Your paper is the closest daily newspaper to Jolo, and I was just checking to confirm if you had received a death notice on Mack Wolford,” she said. At that time, the newspaper had received a death notice, but no additional information.

A trooper who had been working at the West Virginia State Police detachment in Welch on Sunday night and Monday morning said he did not receive any calls concerning incidents at Panther State Park. McDowell County 911 emergency dispatchers also said they did not receive any calls asking for assistance for a snakebite victim in the Panther area.

Duin reported that about 15 people attended the first day service of the 2011 Labor Day homecoming in Jolo where she met Wolford. Those in attendance included five photographers and a few reporters, according to the article she wrote for the Post Magazine. The article includes her detailed account of a service where snakes are handled, as well as details about additional services during the weekend. The two other worship services she mentioned in her article had about 30 people in attendance with eight journalists.

At the time of her September 2011 article, Duin also wrote that Wolford was pastor of the house of the Lord Jesus in Matoaka. She said that she did not interview Wolford for the article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal that was published in April 7. She said in that article, she interviewed younger people who handled poisonous snakes as part of their faith.

She said that she has had the opportunity to get to know and like several people who handle snakes as part of their religious beliefs. “I’m thinking about writing a book about the practice,” she said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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