One woman is dead and at least six “other innocents” were shot after a gunman opened fire Sunday morning at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, the Metro Nashville Police Department says.
The shooter, identified by police as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the scene. He was taken into custody and is at the hospital with non-life-threatening wounds, police said. You can read more about Emanuel Samson here.
Emergency responders were called to the Pin Hook Road church at 11:17 a.m., according to Metro Nashville Fire Department dispatch audio. One person was taken into custody at the scene. The shooter is among those wounded, the fire department says. One of the victims was in more serious condition than the others. The victims include three women and three men, police said. Two were in critical condition and the others are stable, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman told The Tennessean.
“The two critical patients suffered gunshot wounds to (their) chest and torso. The four other patients suffered gunshot wounds to their extremities,” John Howser told the newspaper.
The surviving victims include Minister Joey Spann, who is in critical condition, and his wife, Peggy Spann, 65, who is in stable condition. The other victims are now all in stable condition: Linda Bush, 68; William Jenkins, 83; Marlene Jenkins, 84; Katherine Dickerson, 64; and Robert Engle, 22, the usher who stopped the gunman, police said.
This story is still developing. Here is what we know so far:
1. The Gunman, Wearing a Ski Mask, Opened Fire as Church Was Letting Out, Police Say
Police said at a briefing that the shooting happened as church was being let out. The gunman was wearing a “neoprene ski type mask, a police spokesman Don Aaron told reporters. Aaron said rumors the gunman was wearing a clown mask do not appear to be true, the mask was “more like what you would see on a skier.”
A 911 caller told police that the shooter was wearing a “clown mask,” according to dispatch audio recorded from a police scanner. You can listen to that audio, courtesy of Broadcastify.com, below. It has been edited by Heavy to remove dead air:
The caller told dispatchers there were multiple victims and a “suspect wearing a clown mask.” A witness also told a local news station that the gunman was wearing a mask.
Police said the shooting happened about 11:15 a.m. local time.
“One woman who was walking to her vehicle was immediately fatally wounded by the gunman, who we believe then entered the rear of the church, other persons were still inside the rear of the building, the gunman opened fire on them, multiple rounds were fired inside the church, police said at a press conference.
Aaron said the shooter was firing “indiscriminately” inside the church.
The Burnette Chapel Church of Christ holds a Sunday service at 10 a.m. each week, according to The Tennessean.
Police said they believe there were about 50 people inside the building when the shooting occurred. All of the victims were adults, and police said they believe children were not in the area of the building where the shooting occurred. They were in a separate room for Sunday school, and barricaded there, officials said.
The church is located at 3890 Pin Hook Road in Antioch.
2. The Gunman Shot Himself After Being Confronted by a Church Member With a Handgun
A motive for the shooting was not immediately known. Police initially said Samson did not have any ties to the church, but spokesman Don Aaron later told reporters the suspect was a former member of the church.
He had not been at the church in “quite awhile,” Aaron said, and attended the church a year or two years ago. Earlier, witnesses had said they didn’t recognize the shooter, but Aaron said that is because he was wearing a mask.
According to police, the gunman shot himself after he was confronted by a church usher, Robert Caleb Engel, who went to his car and retrieved a gun. Engel has a permit to carry the handgun, authorities said.
“The gunman was wounded by a self-inflicted shot,” a police spokesman said. “He too has been taken to the hospital. One of the church members, upon seeing the gunman doing this action inside the church, ran up and confronted him. He was pistol-whipped by the gunman,” Aaron told reporters.
Police said the gunman then accidentally shot himself in the leg. The member of the church who confronted him was an usher, according to police. He has a permit to legally carry a handgun, and ran to his car to retrieve his gun after being struck by the shooter. He then went back into the church and held the shooter at gunpoint, police said. Aaron called him an “exceptionally brave individual.” He was bleeding from the head, but was able to talk to police and walk into an ambulance on his own.
Police said the suspect is under guard at Vanderbilt Medical Center and his injuries are not expected to be life-threatening. The investigation is continuing and will be ongoing throughout the day Sunday and into the week.
The gunman arrived at the scene in a blue SUV that was found in the church’s parking lot, police said. He was wearing a “neoprene” mask over half his face, police said. It was checked by a police “hazardous devices” unit, but there were no explosives found. Police have not said what kind of weapon was used.
Aaron said the shooter’s car was still running when officers arrived. He said investigators do not believe he expected to be confronted by the “brave” usher.
In a statement, Caleb Engle, the usher, said, “I do not want to be labeled a hero. The real heroes are the police, first responder and medical staff and doctors who have helped me and everyone affected.”
Engle said in the statement, “I’ve been going to this church my whole life, since I was a small child. I would never, ever thought something like this would have happened. 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. 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?'”
3. Survivors Ran to a Nearby House for Help After Escaping From the Gunman
A woman who lives near the church, Debbie Love, told WKRN-TV that two members of the church ran to her house after escaping from the gunman and sought help from her and her husband.
“There’s two people that come up to our door and say ‘someone is shooting at us at the church,'” Love said. “(Her husband) called 911 and told the police, the station, there was a shooting at the church. … We had heard something, I was in the back of the house and it sounded like a wreck, but it wasn’t a wreck.”
Love said her husband went back there and found a victim in a parking lot and other victims inside the church suffering from gunshot wounds, including a person in the doorway.
“A man and his wife run up here to the house. … We heard the noise, bang, bang, well we thought it was just a crash down the corner that happened,” Joe Love, Debbie’s husband, told WKRN. “Next thing you know the man and the wife, they was in the church and the man shot at them, but they were able to get out and they ran over here to me. They said, ‘We were shot at in the church’ and I said, ‘What! Nothing goes around here in the country!’ They said, ‘We’ve been shot at and my sister is still in.'”
The man said he put his shoes on and went over to the church.
“By the time I got over there, he had shot the first lady in the back, in the parking lot, then he turned around and rode her over and shot her in the face,” Joe Love said. “Then he went through the church, he knocked one older man off a walker, onto the floor. … One guy he shot, he hit his scalp up here, because he had blood all down his face and everything, he was inside there standing over top of him with the gun.”
Joe Love told The Tennessean the shooter shot the woman outside the church “like she was a damn dog in his backyard.”
Firefighters responded to the scene for a “level one mass casualty incident.”
“This is a mass casualty situation,” the fire department said on Twitter. All of the wounded have been transported to area hospitals. The majority are older adults,” the fire department said in a statement.
All of the victims were above the age of 60, except for one, the fire department said. The churchgoers who were not wounded have been taken to a safe location and are being interviewed by detectives. A unification area will be set up at Beautiful Gate Church located at 12316 Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville, officials said.
The victims were being transported to Vanderbilt Medical Center, The Tennessean reports. Police said two other victims, one who was shot and one who was pistol-whipped, were taken to another hospital, Skyline Medical Center.
Metro Nashville Police said the scene remains active and advised people to stay away from the area.
The area around the church, located on Pin Hook Road, has been closed down while police investigate and emergency responders tend to victims.
“The area around the church is shut down as @MNPDNashville continues their investigation,” the Metro Nashville Fire Department said on Twitter.
The FBI and ATF were also at the scene to assist in the investigation, police said. They are working to determine if any federal laws were violated by the gunman
4. Burnette Chapel Church Says ‘You Will Find Us to Be a Friendly, Bible-Based Group’
On its website, the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ says in its welcome message, “If you are looking for a church home, you will find us to be a friendly, Bible based group of folks who love the Lord and are interested in spreading His Word to those who are lost.”
The church’s statement continues, “Burnette Chapel has been serving the Antioch, LaVergne and Nashville TN areas for quite some time. No matter where you live, if you want to attend a Church where people remember who you are, please join us!”
The message also adds, in parentheses, “and yeah you can wear blue jeans :).”
The church is located in Antioch, which is a neighborhood in southeastern Davidson County that is governed by the city of Nashville.
“This is 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,” Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said in a statement. “Their lives have been forever changed, as has the life of their faith community at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ.
“My administration, especially the Metro Nashville Police Department, will continue to work with community members to stop crime before it starts, encourage peaceful conflict resolution, and promote non-violence,” Barry said.
5. The Church Is Led by Minister Joey Spann, Who Was Among the Wounded
Former ministor Bill Hunter told The Tennessean that Spann and Spann’s wife, Peggy, were among those wounded in the shooting.
“I understand that there have been eight people shot, including the shooter,” Hunter said. “I understand the man just walked in, sat down and started shooting. … I’m just absolutely stunned. I just can’t believe that someone would come off the street and just start shooting. That seems to be what happened.”
A church member, Minerva Rosa, wearing a blood-stained dress, told reporters outside the church that she jumped on the ministor to stop the bleeding after he was shot.
Joey and Peggy Spann have been married since 1974 and have two children and two grandchildren.
Spann is a Tennessee native, graduating from Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville and David Lipscomb College, according to a biography on a website for a church where he spoke in 2012. He has previously worked as a minister or youth minister at several churches, including Smith Springs, Vultee, Northeast, Shady Grove, Old Hickory, West Nashville Heights and Pasquo. He has also been a teacher and coach at Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, Tennessee.
In 2011, Spann nearly died after suffering a heart attack while coaching the girls basketball team at the high school, according to the Nashville City Paper. He collapsed at the scorer’s table at David Lipscomb High School’s gym and was rushed to the hospital, where he later underwent quadruple bypass surgery, the newspaper reported.
“The doctors told me that 95 percent of the people that experienced what I did would have died right away. They said of the other five percent, some would have died on the way to the hospital. I was one of the lucky few. They told me I had a really strong heart, one of a 16-year-old,” he told the newspaper. “I am so fortunate. I’m a Christian, and I felt the hand of God touching me.”