25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson entered the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn. and opened fire. According to reports, he wounded six people and killed one.
A church member told News5 that the shooter had entered the church wearing a clown mask before gunfire erupted.
Samson of Murfreesboro had arrived at the church’s parking lot where he fatally shot 39-year-old Melanie Smith of Smyrna as she was walking to her car, Metropolitan Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said Sunday.
The alleged shooter, wearing a half mask, then went inside the church through the back and opened fire as services were ending. The suspect pistol-whipped an usher who confronted him before accidentally shooting himself, police said.
The usher, identified by authorities as 22-year-old Robert Engle, then picked up his gun from his car and guarded the suspect until police arrive at the church, police said.
Joey Spann the church’s minister, and his 65-year-old wife, Peggy, were injured in the shooting, the Nashville Christian School said in a Facebook post. Spann, 60, is a Bible teacher at the school, according to the post.
Minerva Rosa, who has been a church member for eight years, said the suspect was silent as he sprayed bullets across the parish.
“Run! Run! Gunshots!” she recalled the minister shouting.
Rosa also described Engle as a “hero.”
“He’s amazing,” she said. “Without him, I think it could be worse.”
Seven people, including the shooter, were treated for their wounds and had been taken to hospitals, the Nashville Fire Department said.
Samson was released from the hospital and is expected to be charged with murder and attempted murder, Aaron said.
Church members said that Samson had been to the church one or two years ago, he said.
Aaron added that the suspect came to the U.S. from Sudan in 1996 and was a legal resident. A motive for the shooting remains unknown.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it’s opening a civil rights investigation into the church shooting.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry called the shooting a “terrible tragedy.”
“My heart aches for the family and friends of the deceased as well as for the wounded victims and their loved ones,” the mayor said in a statement.
In addition to the Spanns, authorities identified the rest of the victims as 83-year-old William Jenkins, 84-year-old Marlene Jenkins, 68-year-old Linda Busch, 64-year-old Katherine Dickerson and Engle, who was pistol-whipped by the gunman.
Authorities said all of the victims were in stable condition, except Joey Spann, who was critical but stable, The Tennessean reported.