Preacher Jamie Coots had been bitten nine previous times by rattlesnakes.
The star of National Geographic's "Snake Salvation" has died. He was bit by a rattlesnake during a February 15 service at his Middlesboro, Ky., church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name and refused treatment. Preacher Jamie Coots, 42, was bitten on the hand at the church while handling three rattlesnakes. According to NPR, Coots was driven home. Emergency responders met him at his home and tried to persuade him to accept anti-venom treatment. The emergency responders left and about an hour later, another call was made to inform the authorities that he had died.
Coots, who had permits to keep the reptiles, was apparently bitten nine times over the last 22 years and told NPR last year that he believed he recovered every time due to the power of his faith. He came from a line of religious venomous snake handlers. His grandfather was the first in his family as a Pentecostal preacher to handle venomous snakes and preach at the same time, and his father followed in his footsteps. Coots had hoped to pass on the religious practice to his son, who also handles snakes at the church.
Followers of the religion take the readings from the Book of Mark in the King James Bible literally, believing that being bitten by a rattlesnake can mean several things; that the person bitten by the snake has sinned; has not lived a righteous life; or that God "was using that person as a messenger to confirm the faith and the word is true.
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There are approximately 125 congregations in Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas and Appalachia that handle the venomous reptiles. Coots kept about 30 rattlesnakes and copperheads in enclosures at his home. His favorite snake? The black timber rattlesnake. The very snake that administered the fatal dose of venom was a 2 1/2 foot black timber rattler, his son, Cody Coots told a local paper.
The timber rattlesnake can be found in the eastern United States and grows to about three to five feet. It is considered one of the most dangerous of the rattlesnakes due in part to its long fangs and prodigious venom-creating capabilities, yet has a mild disposition when compared to other rattlesnakes.
Statement from National Geographic:
"Those risks were always worth it to him and his congregants as a means to demonstrate their unwavering faith," the statement said. "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."