A masked gunman opened fire at a church in Antioch, Tenn., on Sunday, killing one person and wounding six others, according to police. He also used a gun to badly beat an usher who confronted him and managed to stop the shooting, they said.
The shooting took place about 11:15 a.m. as morning services drew to a close at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, about 12 miles southeast of downtown Nashville, police spokesman Don Aaron said at a news conference.
Police identified the suspect as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, a native of Sudan who congregants said had attended the church a year or two ago. He was taken into police custody Sunday afternoon after being treated at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Authorities, who are still investigating potential motives for the shooting, said they will charge Samson with murder and attempted murder.
After fatally shooting Melanie Smith, 39, a churchgoer who was walking to her vehicle, the gunman entered the rear of the brick church and shot three men and three women, police said.
The shooting came to an end after a 22-year-old church usher, Robert Caleb Engle, physically confronted the gunman, who shot himself, possibly by accident, during their struggle.
Engle, who suffered “serious injuries” from being pistol-whipped, managed to leave the sanctuary, grab his own firearm from his vehicle and stand guard over the shooter, who was wearing a neoprene mask, until emergency officials arrived on the scene, police said.
“He’s the hero,” Steve Anderson, the Metropolitan Nashville police chief, said at an afternoon news conference. “He’s the person who stopped this madness, and so we’re very, very grateful to him.”
The six victims who were shot and wounded inside the church are in stable condition at local hospitals and are expected to recover, Aaron said.
Engle, who was released from Nashville’s TriStar Skyline Medical Center later Sunday, issued a statement urging people to pray for the victims, including the shooter and the shooter’s family and friends.
“They are hurting as well,” he said. “I pray that through all of this that people will come to know Christ and I ask our nation to reflect on Romans 8:31: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’”
Engle said he did not wish to be labeled a hero.
“The real heroes are the police, first responders and medical staff and doctors who have helped me and everyone affected,” he said.
Meanwhile, officials were attempting to piece together the shooter’s motives.
“We have learned from church members, now that the name of the suspect is known, that he actually had attended this church a year to two years ago,” Aaron said. “They said he hasn’t been here in quite a while… but they actually knew him. They did not know him this morning when he arrived, because, remember, he was masked.”
On Sunday afternoon, David Boling, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Nashville, said his office and the FBI’s civil rights division have opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
"The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence,” Boling said in a statement. “As this is an ongoing investigation, we are not able to comment further at this time."
The church's minister, Joey Spann, and his wife, Peggy, were both injured during the shooting, according to a statement on Facebook from the Nashville Christian School. Spann is a Bible teacher and basketball coach there.
“Run!” Spann shouted as the gunman entered the church, congregant Minerva Rosa told The Tennessean newspaper. As church members started to flee, some were shot from behind, she said.
"Our church is senior people,” she said. “They didn't make it out."
The Nashville Fire Department described the incident as a “mass casualty situation” on its Twitter account. “All of the wounded have been transported to area hospitals,” the department said in a statement. “The majority are older adults.”
Joe Love, 67, who lives across the street from the church, said he and his wife, Donna, heard loud “pops” from inside their home but assumed it was a car crash.
As Love got up and walked toward his front door, a man and a woman ran up to his front porch shouting: “Help us! Help us! Somebody’s shooting us in the church!”
The shooting had stopped, so Love put on his shoes, called 911 and followed the couple back to the church.
“I walked up on all the chaos before the police even arrived," Love said in a telephone interview.
"One woman was dead in the parking lot,” he said. “There were bodies throughout the sanctuary. One man had been knocked off his walker at the front door. I looked and I said ‘Damn! In a church?’”
As emergency responders sealed off the area, Love said he could not imagine why anybody would attack Burnette Chapel.
“This was just an old country church,” he said. “Good people who never bothered a soul.”
The church, which has a weekly 10 a.m. Sunday service, describes its congregation on its website as “a friendly, Bible-based group of folks who love the Lord and are interested in spreading His Word to those who are lost.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry described the shooting as a “terrible tragedy for our city.”
“My heart aches for the family and friends of the deceased as well as for the wounded victims and their loved ones,” she said in a statement. “Their lives have been forever changed, as has the life of their faith community at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.”
The area around the church was closed off Sunday afternoon while police interviewed witnesses.
“Nothing like that has ever happened here,” said Debra Garland, 58, who lives across the street from the church and was away from home during the shooting.
“It’s a really good Christian church, with older and younger people, of all races,” she said. “Everyone seemed to get along. I don’t know of any reason anyone would do that.”
Jarvie is a special correspondent.
5:50 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Engle.
4:50 p.m.: This article replaces a breaking news post about the shooting with a more detailed account of what is known so far.
11:28 a.m.: This post has been updated with the gunman’s injury.
11 a.m.: This post has been updated with one person killed, seven wounded and the suspect captured.
This post originally published at 10:25 a.m.