A 39-year-old woman died and eight others were found injured after a shooting at a Nashville-area church on Sunday morning.
Among the injured were the alleged gunman, who was shot with his own gun in a struggle with a 22-year-old church usher, who was also injured. Six other churchgoers, all over the age of 60, suffered gunshot wounds, but they were expected to survive, authorities said Sunday evening.
The sole fatality was identified as 39-year-old Melanie Smith, who died in the church parking lot after being shot multiple times, Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said.
The shooting occurred around 11:15 a.m., as Sunday services had finished at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, a Nashville neighborhood 11 miles southeast of the city center.
A reporter for WKRN tweeted that the pastor’s son said his father was shot in the chest and is currently at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The Tennessean also reported that the pastor’s wife is among those injured.
The alleged shooter was identified by police as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, from Rutherford County, Tennessee. The motive of the shooting was not immediately known, but members of the congregation told police that he had attended the church a year or two ago.
Samson was armed with two handguns and wore a ski mask during the shooting, Aaron said, and initially, no one recognized him. It was only when he was identified by authorities that members of the church remembered his name, Aaron said.
“The folks here said they had not seen him in quite a while,” he said, adding it was unclear why Samson had returned.
After firing multiple gunshots, Samson was confronted by the church’s 22-year-old usher, Robert Engle, police said. In the struggle, Samson was shot in the left chest with his own gun and Engle was pistol whipped, police said. The usher managed to subdue Samson, police said, then went to his car to retrieve his own gun, which he held on Samson until authorities arrived.
“Mr. Engle saved countless lives here today,” Aaron said. “He was brave, he took definitive action, even to his own peril, his own injury. He is, at the end of the day, the hero in this.”
A woman who lives near the church said her husband went to the scene after hearing about the shooting.
“One was in the parking lot that he had shot, in the back. And he had went into the church and there was someone lying in the doorway and some other people shot,” she says in a video posted by a reporter at the scene.
In another video, the woman’s husband describes the what happened.
“He had shot the first lady in the back by the parking lot by that green Explorer. Then he turned around and rolled her over and shot her in the face,” the man says in the video. BuzzFeed News wasn’t able to confirm this account of the incident.
In a photo posted to Twitter by a local reporter at the scene, blood could be seen on the dress of one of the congregants, Minerva Rosa, after she attempted to stabilize the church’s pastor, Joey Spann, who was shot.
On a Facebook profile that appears to belong to Samson, he wrote that he lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and that he is originally from Khartoum, Sudan. Police said he arrived in the US from Sudan in 1996, and he was a legal resident. Authorities were not aware of him having any type of previous criminal record.
On Facebook, Samson said he studied psychology at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, and attended Smyrna High School, just a few miles south of Antioch, where the shooting occurred. Smith, who died in the shooting, was also from Smyrna, Tennessee.
Many of the photos posted show Samson at the gym or working out, and other interests listed include the Bible and Jesus.
Around the same time as the shooting he appeared to make three Facebook posts. The first said, “You are more than what they told us.” Another said, “Become the creator instead of what’s created. Whatever you say, goes.” In a last post around the same time, “Everything you’ve ever doubted or made to be believe as false, is real. & vice versa, B.”
Megan Berry, the mayor of Nashville, called the shooting 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. Their lives have been forever changed, as has the life of their faith community at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ,” Berry said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.
Samson was treated and released from a hospital into police custody Sunday evening, Aaron said, and he is expected to be charged with murder and multiple counts of attempted murder. The FBI along with the US Attorney’s office has also launched a federal civil rights investigation. An FBI spokesman declined to answer questions about the investigation because it is ongoing.