A 25-year-old man has been identified as the shooter who opened fire Sunday morning inside a church in Tennessee, killing a woman and wounding six others before accidentally shooting himself when he was confronted by an usher, police say.
The suspect, Emanuel Kidega Samson, is under police guard at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries, the Nashville Metro Police Department said. He is a former member of the church, police said.
Officers were called to the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch about 11:15 a.m. for a report of an active shooter, police said. They found the suspect being held at gunpoint by the usher and several victims in need of medical attention, along with a woman who had suffered a fatal gunshot wound in the church’s parking lot.
“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 Tennessean.
A seventh shooting victim was hospitalized at another medical center and his or her condition is not known. And the usher, who was pistol whipped after confronting the shooter, was also hospitalized with a head injury that is not life-threatening, according to police.
A motive for the shooting has not been released. Samson will be taken into police custody and charged with murder and multiple counts of attempted murder after he leaves the hospital, according to police.
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 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.
Here’s what we know so far about the suspect and the shooting:
1. Police Say the Ski Mask-Clad Gunman Was Stopped by a ‘Brave’ Usher
Police said at a briefing that the shooting happened as church was being let out. The gunman, identified as Emanuel Samson, was wearing a “neoprene ski type mask,” and armed with two guns, 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. The church is located at 3890 Pin Hook Road in Antioch.
“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.
According to police, the gunman shot himself after he was confronted by a church member, 22-year-old Robert Engle, who went to his car and retrieved a gun. Engle 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.
Samson 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.
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. Police said Samson had two guns in his possession inside the church, both handguns. Police also said they found a rifle and another handgun in his SUV.
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?'”
2. Samson Previously Attended the Church About 1-2 Years Ago, but Hadn’t Been There in ‘Awhile,’ Police Say
Police said the gunman has been identified as Emanuel Samson, 25, of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which is in Rutherford County, about 25 miles south of Antioch. He was transported to jail Sunday night.
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 about 1-2 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 The Tennessean, Samson previously lived at an apartment near the Burnette Bethel Church of Christ in South Nashville, along with his most recent residence in Murfreesboro.
It is not known if Samson has a criminal record. Police have not released a motive for the shooting, but the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee said a civil rights investigation has been launched.
“The Memphis FBI Field Office’s Nashville Resident Agency, the Civil Rights Division, and the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee have opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee,” David Boling, spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Nashville, told The Tennesseean. “The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.”
3. Samson, a Native of Sudan Who Moved to the US as a Child, Recently Threatened Suicide & Fought With His Girlfriend, Records Show
Samson lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and graduated from Smyrna High School in 2010, also in Tennessee, in 2010, according to his Facebook page.
Samson is a native of Khartoum, Sudan, according to his Facebook page. Police said he came to the United States in 1996, when he was 4 or 5. He is a legal resident of the U.S., but it is not known if he is a citizen.
Police records obtained by WSMV-TV show that in the past year, Samson threatened suicide and fought with his girlfriend.
In June 2017, Samson texted his father, writing, “Your phone is off, I have a gun to my head. Have a nice f****** life.” Samson’s father called police to report his son was suicidal. Other details of that incident weren’t immediately available, the news station reports.
Police also responded to two domestic dispute calls involving Samson and his ex-girlfriend in Murfressboro, WSMV reports.
The first incident occurred January 29, when officers responded to a domestic disturbance at his North Rutherford home. According to the police report, Samson was fighting with his then-girlfriend, who had accused him of cheating on her. Samson turned away from her and punched a small TV, breaking it, police said. He also broke a “small figurine” and “when (the girlfriend) tried to leave the room, Samson demanded that she talk to him,” WSMV reports. Police responded after the girlfriend called 911 and Samson refused medical attention. He left the home and was not arrested.
In March, Samson called police to report that he was trying to break contact with his ex-girlfriend, but she kept coming around, WSMV reports. Samson told police that his ex showed up and was banging on his door and he was in fear because she had struck him before. He did not press charges. The woman told police she was coming to the house to pick up her things.
He is a bodybuilder, according to his social media profiles. “I aspire to inspire & lift while UPlifting,” he says in his Instagram profile. “Classic physique competitor on a path of domination! Let’s Getit!”
Samson competed in the NPC men’s physique competition at Music City Muscle in November 2016.
He wrote on Facebook in June, “Art of bodybuilding and having the luxury of playing a role in how you look. Expressions on canvas. .every muscle fiber has it’s own life experience that’s a part of one whole bigger image – a walking autobiography.”
He graduated from Motlow State Community College in 2013 with an associate’s degree in psychology, according to his Indeed resume. He said at the time he was interested in pursuing a career as a counselor.
“To better prepare myself as I continue in the field of psychology by strengthening my community skills while counseling, advising, and guiding individuals/groups either spiritually, emotionally, and mentally; all while pursuing official licensing of a deemed psychologist,” he wrote. “Great communication skills. Trilingual in the following languages: English, Arabic, and Acholi (tribal language). Excellent memory. Can multitask if needed.”
He has held several jobs, including as a driver for Papa John’s pizza in Lavergne, Tennessee, a cook at Your Burger in Smyrna and as a courtesy clerk at Kroger in Lavergne.
From 2014 to 2016, Samson had a state license to work as an unarmed security guard, The Tennessean reports. He has worked for G4S Security, the newspaper reports. The company did not comment Monday. Samson had recently reapplied for that license, WSMV reports.
While police have said they do not know of any connection between Samson and the church, he has previously posted on Facebook about being Christian. In February 2010, he wrote, “Ready to get Baptised:) [only ONCE,unlike sum ppl].” A day earlier, he wrote, “i dont need to change myself before i come to Christ,cause Christ came into me and CHANGED ME..” Samson was a high school senior at the time.
After graduating from high school, in May 2010, he posted about being a “devoted Christian,” and wrote that he was thinking of becoming a preacher:
I came too long of a way, all the way from Africa; to come to America and FAIL. I must say, that’s a COMPLETE NO-NO!. Just know that whenever we’re around eachother & I’m quiet, I’m just OBSERVING what can be CHANGED in the atmosphere that i may be in at the moment. So don’t think for a second that I’m not saying anything because “I don’t have anything to say…”; but rather know that I’m thinking of a master plan. I honestly never thought that I’d be a ‘high school graduate’ at all, I somewhat doubted myself along with others. Although, now im beyong appreciative towards God for allowing me to have that title. Whether it’s a diploma in my hands or just a minor certificate, just know that I’m NOT gone let ANYTHING refrain me from taking my education to the very next level. I’m aiming at psychologist; but also becoming a preacher. Either way it may go in my life as I pursue to do what the Lord has called me to do, best-believe one thing; I’m bout that action-&-I-WILL-make it happen.
He often wrote things along the lines of, “God is good” and “rise and shine;its church time!!”
Also in 2010, he posted, “Any body can say”dey believe in God”but it takes a TRUE Christian to practice wat we preach & set possitive examples & help guide erbody to da light,da truth,& da way.”
In January 2012 he wrote, “When it comes to God, I’m on hush mode I’ll let my life do the talking.”
But it is not clear what Samson’s current beliefs are. His most recent Facebook posts do not include any statements about religion.
4. Samson Posted on Facebook Just Hours Before the Shooting, Writing ‘Become the Creator Instead of What’s Created’
Samson posted multiple cryptic messages on his Facebook page Sunday morning, just hours before the shooting.
“Unrestricted, paroxysm,” he wrote at 9:58 a.m., along with photos of him posing.
He then wrote at 10:18 a.m., “You are more than what they told us.” At 10:22 a.m., he wrote, “Become the creator instead of what’s created .
Whatever you say, goes.”
His final post, at 10:26 a.m., said, “Everything you’ve ever doubted or made to be believe as false, is real. & vice versa, B.”
The shooting occurred at about 11:15 a.m., police say.
His other recent Facebook postings show an interest in the news, including the series of hurricanes that have struck the Caribbean and U.S.
“But I’m trippin, though right ? Lol no way, Jose ?,” he wrote on September
5. These mugs forming by the week, B.” On August 31, he posted about Hurricane Irma, writing “Oh look, another one. Gee, how natural could this be? ? And who named this so quickly mane?”
He posted on August 31, “While y’all shcleeep ?,” along with a report President Trump clearing the way for military weapons to be given to local police.
He also posted about a recent story where a police officer told a white woman that “we only kill black people,” during a traffic stop. Samson commented, “Regardless of your energy/intentions behind such statements, the principle remains B.”
In late August, he also posted several comments about himself and his life.
“When you have an idea, act on it before someone else does. While I dreamt, someone manifested theirs into the physical. Every second counts, literally. I know that now,” he wrote on August 30.
That same day he wrote, “Every single legend before me was just a false alarm. Every single thought that you think you think you thought is wrong. Crawling through hell with gasoline garments on, army-strong, barel to the devil this is the rebirth of ? Kong.”
On August 22, he wrote, “To be honest , I’m not modest. Sometimes in order to triumph it takes a lil bit of cockiness.”
5. Minister Joey Spann Was Among Those Shot at the ‘Friendly, Bible-Based’ Church
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 :).”
Former minister 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 minister 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.
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.
Read more about Joey Spann at the link below: