The woman who was fatally shot in an Antioch, Tennessee church parking lot as she left Sunday services was identified as a mother of two named Melanie Crow Smith, who was remembered for her friendly and witty personality.
Some news stations gave her name as Melanie Smith, her married name, but on Facebook she used the name Melanie L. Crow, her maiden name. On Facebook, she had prominently posted a Tennyson quote on her profile. “I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most,” it reads. She updated her account only hours before the shooting with a Stephen King passage about hell.
In addition to Smith’s death, at least seven people were wounded when a masked gunman identified as Emanuel Kidega Samson opened fire inside the Burnette Chapel Church in Antioch, Tennessee, the Nashville Fire Department confirmed on Twitter. The motive remains unknown.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Gunman Murdered Smith as She Walked to Her Car in the Parking Lot
Smith was the gunman’s first and only fatal victim, at least so far. Police said he shot her as she left the church to walk to her car in the parking lot. The gunman then entered the church and opened fire randomly on the congregation.
Her notes from church were still lying on the ground after the shooting.
News channel 5 reported that the victims who did not die are 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, 38, was from Smyrna, Tennessee.
It would have been even worse if it wasn’t for Robert Engle, a heroic usher with a permit to legally carry a firearm, who is credited with helping to stop the gunman, Emanuel Kidega Samson, who allegedly pistol whipped Engle when the usher tried to intervene. Police say Engle then retrieved a gun from his car and held Samson at gunpoint. The gunman accidentally shot himself, but he’s in custody and still alive.
The gunman is from Rutherford County, Tenneseee, and he is a former member of the church, police said. He was described as being age 25, in custody, and wearing a ski-type mask.
A native of Sudan, Samson went to college in Flint, Michigan, and college in Tennessee.
2. Smith, a Mother of Two, Was Remembered for Her Kind Personality
The 39-year-old single mother of two was remembered as “sweet and kind,” according to reporter Jeremy Finley. On September 22, she posted a photo of herself with her young son at the beach and wrote on Facebook, “My little boy has a future as an actor I believe.” In another post, she wrote of her son, “He’s a mama’s boy all the way…fell asleep on my lap.”
Melanie also had a 19-year-old daughter named Breanna. Her children, Breanna Smith, 19, and RJ Smith, 12, spoke to NewsChannel 5 about their mother and remembered her as witty and loving and said she encouraged them to pray.
“I still pray, I’ll still pray for the rest of my life, knowing that my mom is still with me and that she’s here,” said RJ to the television station. Breanna added in the interview: “She’s always been the first word that comes to mind is sassy, but also intelligent, wit was quick.”
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.”
“Church is the one place shootings should never happen,” another man wrote in a tribute to Melanie Smith on Facebook.
3. Smith Was Remembered as a ‘Devoted Child of God’
On Facebook, Crow Smith 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.”
Smith was a graduate of Hillwood High, she wrote on Facebook.
There is a GoFundMe site established to help her children. The message posted on it reads, “Melanie woke up on a Sunday morning, like so many of us do. She woke up with a smile on her face and with love in her heart and got ready for church. She had been through some struggles recently and was coming out on the other side of it, into the light. She had recently started a new job and was looking forward to a new chapter in her life, with her 2 amazing children,whom she loved dearly. If you were to ask any former coworker, family member or friend, what they remember most about Melanie, it would be her bubbly happy personality and the way she would light up a room with her smile. As church service was coming to a close, Melanie began to feel sick, so she decided to leave a few minutes early. As she was approaching her vehicle a masked man shot and killed her in the parking lot. He then went into the church and fired more rounds injuring others. We take comfort knowing where she is today. Melanie was first and foremost a child of God. She was a devoted mother and wife and loved all of her family dearly. If you are not able to give financially, I just want to ask that you please pray for all of Melanie’s family, especially her children. Also, please pray for the others who were injured and for all of those who were present at church. Church is our safe place. Church is where we go when we are heavy with burdens and when we need peace and comfort. That sense of peace has been shaken for so many, because of a senseless act of hate. All money raised will go first toward any final funeral expenses. Anything over that will go directly toward her two children Breanna & RJ.”
4. Smith Had Recently Shared a Quote About Hell & Her Profile Picture Was a Tennyson Poem About Sorrow
Some of Melanie Smith’s recent Facebook posts are a bit chilling in retrospect. Only hours before the shooting, she shared a quote by Stephen King that read, “No one can tell what good goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side. Or you don’t.”
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.”
A friend wrote simply on the comment thread, “You were such a wonderful person.” Friends also filled a relative’s photo tribute to Smith, writing comments like, “Praying for you guys. This just isn’t right. Hold on to the good memories.”
5. The Church Minister Was Also Among Those 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.”
Police later confirmed that both the minister Joey Spann and his wife, Peggy, were shot, and Joey Spann was the most seriously injured among the wounded victims.
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, Spann told the Nashville City Paper, “I am so fortunate. I’m a Christian, and I felt the hand of God touching me.”
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.”
Read more about the church shooting here: