A 39-year-old woman died and eight others were found injured after a shooting at a Nashville-area church on Sunday morning.
Among the injured were the alleged gunman, who was shot with his own gun in a struggle with a 22-year-old church usher, who was also injured. Six other churchgoers, all over the age of 60, suffered gunshot wounds, but they were expected to survive, authorities said Sunday evening.
The sole fatality was identified as 39-year-old Melanie Smith, who died in the church parking lot after being shot multiple times, Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said.
The shooting occurred around 11:15 a.m., as Sunday services had finished at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, a Nashville neighborhood 11 miles southeast of the city center. Forty-two people were inside the church when the shooting occurred, police said.
A reporter for WKRN tweeted that the pastor's son said his father was shot in the chest and is currently at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The Tennessean also reported that the pastor's wife is among those injured.
On Monday afternoon, the Nashville Police Department tweeted that two of the injured church members have been discharged from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The 22 year-old usher was treated and released on Sunday and a woman identified as "Ms. Dickerson" left the hospital Monday.
The alleged shooter was identified by police as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, from Rutherford County, Tennessee. The motive for the shooting was not immediately known, but members of the congregation told police that he had attended the church a year or two ago.
Samson was armed with two handguns and wore a ski mask during the shooting, Aaron said, and initially, no one recognized him. It was only when he was identified by authorities that members of the church remembered his name, Aaron said.
"The folks here said they had not seen him in quite a while," he said, adding it was unclear why Samson had returned.
After firing multiple gunshots, Samson was confronted by the church's 22-year-old usher, Robert Engle, police said. In the struggle, Samson was shot in the left chest with his own gun and Engle was pistol whipped, police said. The usher managed to subdue Samson, police said, then went to his car to retrieve his own gun, which he held on Samson until authorities arrived.
"Mr. Engle saved countless lives here today," Aaron said. "He was brave, he took definitive action, even to his own peril, his own injury. He is, at the end of the day, the hero in this."
A woman who lives near the church said her husband went to the scene after hearing about the shooting.
"One was in the parking lot that he had shot, in the back. And he had went into the church and there was someone lying in the doorway and some other people shot," she says in a video posted by a reporter at the scene.
In another video, the woman's husband describes what happened.
"He had shot the first lady in the back by the parking lot by that green Explorer. Then he turned around and rolled her over and shot her in the face," the man says in the video. BuzzFeed News wasn't able to confirm this account of the incident.
In a photo posted to Twitter by a local reporter at the scene, blood could be seen on the dress of one of the congregants, Minerva Rosa, after she attempted to stabilize the church's pastor, Joey Spann, who was shot.
On a Facebook profile that appears to belong to Samson, he wrote that he lived in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and that he is originally from Khartoum, Sudan. Police said he arrived in the US from Sudan in 1996, and he was a legal resident. Authorities were not aware of him having any type of previous criminal record.
On Facebook, Samson said he studied psychology at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, and attended Smyrna High School, just a few miles south of Antioch, where the shooting occurred. Smith, who died in the shooting, was also from Smyrna, Tennessee.
Many of the photos posted show Samson at the gym or working out, and other interests listed include the Bible and Jesus.
Around the same time as the shooting, Samson appeared to make three cryptic Facebook posts. The first said, "You are more than what they told us." Another said, "Become the creator instead of what's created. Whatever you say, goes." In a last post around the same time, "Everything you've ever doubted or made to be believe as false, is real. & vice versa, B."
Megan Barry, the mayor of Nashville, called the shooting 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. Their lives have been forever changed, as has the life of their faith community at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ," Berry said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.
Samson was treated and released from a hospital into police custody Sunday evening, Aaron said, and he is expected to be charged with murder and multiple counts of attempted murder. On Sunday night, a judicial commissioner ordered that Samson be held without bond pending further court proceedings.
The FBI, along with the US Attorney's office, have also launched a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.
“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," the FBI said in a statement Sunday.
An FBI spokesman declined to answer further questions about the investigation because it is ongoing.
As members of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ reunited with family members and friends for a vigil at another nearby church Sunday evening, Engle, the 22-year-old usher credited with stopping the shooter, released a statement asking people to pray for the victims, as well as for the shooter and his family.
"I’ve been going to this church my whole life, since I was a small child. I would have never, ever thought something like this would have happened," Engle said in a statement to local media outlets. Engle, who reportedly suffered a serious head injury when he was pistol-whipped by the assailant, was released from a local hospital Sunday night.
"I ask everyone to pray for the victims, family members of the victims, our church community. Please pray for healing," he continued in his statement. "Also, please pray for the shooter, the shooter’s family and friends. They are hurting as well."
Addressing his role in confronting the shooter, Engle added: "I do not want to be labeled a hero. The real heroes are the police, first responders and medical staff and doctors who have helped me and everyone affected."
Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2
Contact Talal Ansari at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Claudia Koerner at email@example.com.
Grace Wyler is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Grace Wyler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.