Gunman opens fire in Nashville church; 1 dead, 7 wounded

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A masked gunman invaded a Tennessee church Sunday and opened fire, walking silently down the aisle as he shot unsuspecting congregants. At least one person was killed and seven others wounded, authorities said.

Metropolitan Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron says 39-year-old Melanie Smith of Smyrna, Tennessee, was shot Sunday outside the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in the Nashville neighborhood of Antioch.

Aaron says Smith was shot as she left the church, and the suspect then proceeded inside.

An usher confronted the shooter, who apparently shot himself accidentally in the struggle, authorities said.

No motive for the shooting was immediately determined. Investigators said they were not aware of any relationship between the gunman and any of the worshippers, said Don Aaron, spokesman for the Metro Nashville Police Department.

The gunman pulled into the parking lot as services were ending at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in the Antioch neighborhood. He fatally shot a woman who was walking to her vehicle, then entered the rear of the church and kept firing, shooting six people, police said.

It was unclear whether the self-inflicted wound was intentional, said Aaron said.

The gunman was identified as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, of Murfreesboro. Hours after the attack, he was under police guard at Vanderbilt University Hospital. Authorities were processing warrants to charge him, Aaron said.

Witness Minerva Rosa said the usher, identified by police as 22-year-old Robert Engle, was “a hero.”

“He’s amazing,” said Rosa, a member of the church for eight years. “Without him, I think it could be worse.”

The suspect said nothing as he shot churchgoers. As the gunman made his way down the aisle, Rosa said, the pastor started shouting, “‘Run! Run! Gunshots!'”

Aaron called Engle “an extraordinarily brave individual.”

The gunman and six others were treated for gunshot wounds at nearby hospitals, along with Engle, who was pistol-whipped, Aaron said.

Witnesses were being interviewed by police.

Aaron said as many as 50 people were in the church at the time of the shooting, and that all victims were adults.

The small brick church describes itself on its website as a “friendly, Bible-based group of folks who love the Lord and are interested in spreading his word to those who are lost.”

Photos on the church’s Facebook page show a diverse congregation with people of various ages and ethnicities.

After the attack, the nearby New Beautiful Gate Church opened its doors to reunite Burnette Chapel churchgoers and loved ones.

New Beautiful Gate Pastor Michael Moseby said he is neighbors with Burnette Chapel Pastor Joey Spann and “my heart goes out to him and his whole church.

“As a pastor myself, you come with the expectation of sitting down and having a service and not thinking about what can happen around you,” Moseby said. “You never know who is going to come to the door or what reasons they would come to the door, come to your church and do something like that. We’re always on guard. We just thank God many more weren’t hurt.”

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said in a statement that the shooting was “a terrible tragedy for our city.” She said her administration “will continue to work with community members to stop crime before it starts, encourage peaceful conflict resolution, and promote non-violence.”