One woman was killed and eight people, including the 25-year-old gunman from Sudan, were injured in what officials are calling a “mass casualty” incident at a church in Antioch, Tennessee, Sunday morning.
Nashville Police have identified the suspect in the mass shooting at the Church of Christ as Emanuel Kidega Samson.
Samson is being charged with murder and multiple counts of attempted murder in the attack that killed one and left at least seven other people injured at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, just south of Nashville.
The FBI said Sunday night it has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Samson is a bodybuilder who attended high school in Tennessee and is originally from Karthoum, Sudan, according to screenshots of the suspect’s Facebook page, which has since been taken down.
Police say Samson attended Burnette Chapel a year or two ago, according to congregants, though they had not seen him there in quite a while. He came to the United States from Sudan in 1996, and is a legal U.S. resident, though investigators have not yet confirmed whether he is a citizen.
Just before the shooting, Samson posted this message on his Facebook page: “Everything you’ve ever doubted or made to be believe as false, is real. & vice versa, B.”
Samson posted photos of himself posing at a gym Sunday morning, with the caption “Unrestricted, paroxysm.”
The Sudanese immigrant pulled into the church’s parking lot as services were ending. He fatally shot Melanie Smith, 39, who was walking to her vehicle, then entered the rear of the church with two pistols and walked silently down the aisle as he shot unsuspecting congregants, hitting six people, police spokesman Don Aaron said.
Pastor, David Spann, 60, shouted, “Run, run, gunshots!” as members hid under pews or in bathrooms while the shooter went on the rampage.
Also wounded were Spann’s wife, Peggy, 65, William and Marlene Jenkins, 83 and 84 respectively, Linda Bush, 68, and Katherine Dickerson, 64.
Aaron said the usher of the church – identified as 22-year-old Robert Engle – confronted the gunman and was pistol-whipped, receiving a “significant injury to his head.” Samson was shot in the chest during his struggle with Engle. It was unclear whether the self-inflicted wound to Samson’s chest was intentional, Aaron said.
Aaron said the church usher, who has a valid carry permit, then went out to his car and retrieved his own gun, holding it on the gunman until police arrived. Police described the 6-foot-5 Engle as “extraordinarily brave.”
“He’s the hero. He’s the person who stopped this madness,” Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said during a news conference.
Five of the shooting victims as well as the gunman and the usher were taken to hospital for treatment. Hospital officials say all those wounded are expected to survive.
“I ask everyone to pray for the victims, family members of the victims, our church community. Please pray for healing. Also, please pray for the shooter, the shooter’s family and friends. They are hurting as well,” Engle said in a statement.
“The real heroes are the police, first responders and medical staff and doctors who have helped me and everyone affected,” he added.
Engle’s grandmother said she’s proud of her grandson.
“That’s like him. He’s just someone who cares about a lot of people. He has all their feelings at heart,” said Rheta Engle, 69, the Tennessean newspaper reported. “It would make any parent, grandparent very, very proud of him.”
Forty-two people were at the church at the time of the shooting, and all victims were adults, Aaron said. The Burnette Chapel Church of Christ was founded in 1862, reports the Tennessean. The small brick church describes itself 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.”