At least seven people were wounded – and one woman, Melanie Smith, was killed – when a masked gunman opened fire inside the Burnette Chapel Church in Antioch, Tennessee.
News channel 5 reported that the victims who did not die are the church’s minister Joey Spann (critical condition); his wife, Peggy Spann, 65 (stable); Linda Bush, 68 (stable); William Jenkins, 83 (stable); Marlene Jenkins, 84 (stable); Catherine Dickerson, 64 (stable); and Robert Engle, 22 (stable). Smith, 39, of Smyrna, the victim who died, was a well-liked mother of two.
Robert Engle, a heroic usher with a permit to legally carry a firearm, is credited with helping to stop the gunman, Emanuel Kidega Samson, who allegedly pistol whipped Engle when he intervened.
The mass shooting news was just breaking on September 24, but some information was already coming out about the victims. The Fire Department said that eight people were wounded overall, but that included the shooter, who accidentally shot himself. The gunman, who is originally from Sudan, is more recently from Rutherford County, Tenneseee, and was a former member of the church. He was described as being age 25, in custody, and wearing a ski-type mask.
Here’s what’s known about the victims so far.
The 39-year-old single mother of two was remembered as “sweet and kind,” according to reporter Jeremy Finley. He gave her name as Melanie Smith Crow. “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 in a news conference. That woman was later identified as Melanie Smith.
A friend wrote on Facebook, “Church family … my friend lost her sister (Melanie Crow Smith) this morning in a senseless shooting while leaving church at Burnnette (sic) Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch… she leaves behind two children, her sister is so distraught, PLEASE PLEASE PRAY for this family!!!! — feeling sad.”
On Facebook, Smith, who also went by the name Melanie Crow, wrote that she worked at “ChanceLight™ Behavioral Health & Education, was a Former Professional Account Representative at Medassets, and was a Former Account Representative at Professional Account Services Inc.”
Her profile page contained this quote from Tennyson: “I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; -Alfred Lord Tennyson.”
Minister Joey Spann & His Wife, Peggy
The minister of the church, a well-liked Bible class leader, teacher, and coach, is the most seriously injured of the living victims, and his wife was also shot. Former pastor Bill Hunter told the news media in an interview: “I understand there are eight people who have been shot including the shooter.” He heard that “the man just walked in, sat down, and started shooting. That’s basically all I know. That’s what I’ve been told.”
Joey Spann was in critical but stable condition after the shooting, and his wife was in stable condition.
The church’s website confirms that Joey Spann is the church’s minister. He 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.
When he almost died of a heart attack in 2001, he told the Nashville City Paper, “I am so fortunate. I’m a Christian, and I felt the hand of God touching me.”
Spann is a youth basketball coach.
A 2015 profile story on Joey Spann called him Coach Spann and said he was a new teacher at Nashville Christian School. “I teach Bible class for the 8th graders, juniors, and seniors,” Coach Spann said in the article. “I also coach basketball for the middle school and high school girls. My favorite bible verse has got to be 1 Corinthians 15:57, which says ‘But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ I chose this verse, mainly because it greatly reminds me of the victory in Christ and how we should be thankful for him.”
He also added, “I wanted to become a teacher here at Nashville Christian, because a lot of my friends around here that work in the staff here, and I wanted to work with them and me closer to them as well. I also wanted to be a teacher, because I wanted to get a second job to support me while I do my job at preaching. And lastly, students have taught me outside of the classroom that you don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The gunman, Emanuel Samson, is from Murfreesboro.
A native of Sudan, Samson went to college in Flint, Michigan, and college in Tennessee.
Robert Caleb Engle, the heroic usher who confronted the shooter and was pistol-whipped, then “exited the sanctuary, got a gun from his vehicle and confronted the shooter, who then shot himself,” the Tennessean newspaper reported.
The usher, bleeding from being pistol-whipped, has a permit to legally carry a handgun, and he held the gunman at gunpoint until police arrived, authorities said. He is being hailed as a hero who saved lives.
Engle’s grandmother, Rheta Engle, said her grandson is a caring person, The Tennessean reported.
In a statement after the shooting, Engle 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 continued, “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?’”
“That’s like him. He’s just someone who cares about a lot of people. He has all their feelings at heart… It would make any parent, grandparent very, very proud of him,” she said.
On social media, Engle posted about his family and his religious faith, along with his support for the Second Amendment. One photo that he shared shows a mountain in the background and reads: “My future is bright, because I have God in my life.”
Victim Catherine Dickerson has spoken about the mass shooting to the Tennessean newspaper. She was standing in the church parking lot when she saw the gunman. “He was in black and had a black mask with white little markings on it,” Dickerson said to the newspaper. “He had the gun straight ahead of him, holding it with both hands. I saw one lady and she was going down.” She told the newspaper that she played dead after being shot in the thigh.
Some of the Victims Showed up at a Neighbor’s Door
One neighbor of the church told WKRN-TV that shooting victims showed up at her door.
“There’s two people that come up to our door and say ‘someone is shooting at us at the church,’” she 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.”
She added that her husband went back to the church and found victims in the parking lot and in the church with gunshot wounds.
The Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, which is located in Antioch, holds a service on Sunday mornings.
The fire department has called the shooting a “mass casualty situation,” but only Smith has died.
According to The Tennessean, “Police say all but one of the victims are over the age of 60.”
The victims were being taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center, according to The Tennessean. “The two critical patients suffered gunshot wounds to (their) chest and torso. The four other patients suffered gunshot wounds to their extremities,” The Tennesseean reported early on.
Read more about the church shooting here: