The Rev. Charles Lanier, 51, pastor and founder of Unity Fellowship Church in the City Heights section of San Diego was found dead in a Tijuana apartment Wednesday night. Lanier had been reported missing since last week.
Police authorities report that Lanier died from an overdose of heroin. A source at the Baja California Attorney Generals office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that a syringe was found near Laniers body.
Baja California law enforcement officials said Lanier had been renting an apartment in Tijuana with another man, also a U. S. citizen, since November 2007. Neighbors passing Laniers third-floor unit in Tijuana saw the door ajar and Lanier lying face-up on the floor about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Police are searching for Laniers roommate.
A church member described Lanier as a recovered drug addict who openly spoke about his previous drug abuse.
Lanier told friends two weeks ago that he was going to the local Albertsons supermarket. But, when he failed to return, friends and associates began to worry and called police. Family and friends told police it would not be in character for Lanier to take an extended trip and not let anyone know where he was going and when he was going to return.
Laniers black 2007 Cadillac CTS was found on February 22 in a San Ysidro parking lot, just north of the Baja California border. It is an area mostly used by visitors to Mexico.
The popular pastor was supposed to host a barbecue last Saturday.
Rommel Moreno Manjarrez, the Baja California Attorney General said Thursday that an autopsy conducted by the Baja California Medical Examiners Office determined that Rev. Charles Laniers cause of death was a drug overdose.
The death of Lanier, who was also the chief financial officer for the Minority Aids Project in Los Angeles, shocked friends of the Los Angeles branch of Unity Fellowship Church as well as his friends and co-workers at MAP.
He was a strong leader at the Minority Aids Project and he worked very closely with his church and community, said executive assistant Rev. Russell Thornhill, who had known Lanier for 11 years. Whether clients or parishioners were dealing with addiction or health issues, Lanier was available. He was a wonderful pastor, a wonderful leader and a very strong community activist, said Thornhill. He gave his life for that work and for people who were homeless, hungry, and broken and he went into the community and served people living with HIV/AIDS.
Thornhill said that Lanier founded the San Diego branch of Unity Fellowship Church about five years ago. Unity Fellowship was founded for people of all races, ethnicities, and sexual identities.
Lanier is survived by his mother, three sisters, nieces and nephews in Los Angeles. A memorial service is being planned.