NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – One woman was killed and eight people, including the gunman, were injured in what officials are calling a “mass casualty” incident at a church in Antioch Sunday morning.
Metro police responded to the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ on Pin Hook Road at 11:15 a.m.
The preliminary investigation shows the gunman– identified as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25 – arrived to the church in a blue SUV wearing all black and half of a face mask. He was reportedly armed with two pistols.
Metro police said he immediately confronted a woman outside the church, shooting her at least one time, killing her on the scene. She was identified as Melanie Smith, 39, of Smyrna.
Samson is accused of then going inside the church and opening fire. Forty two people were in attendance and six people were injured.
The victims were identified as the minister, Joey Spann; his wife, Peggy Spann; William Jenkins, 83; his wife Marlene Jenkins, 84; Linda Bush, 68; and Katherine Dickerson, 64.
“He was just shooting,” said church member Minerva Rosa. “He came right to the middle and shot more.”
She continued, “He shot a bunch outside and then shot more because he shot all the way to the front of the church.”
Rosa, who works at the VA hospital, told News 2 she went to help Minister Spann because “he had an upper chest gunshot wound. I just put pressure on it because everybody else was a leg or arm.”
Police spokesman Don Aaron said the usher of the church—identified as 22-year-old Robert Engle—then confronted the gunman and was pistol-whipped, receiving a “significant injury to his head.”
At some point during the confrontation, authorities say the gunman then shot himself, but it’s unclear if it was intentional.
Aaron said the usher, who has a valid carry permit, then went out to his car and retrieved his own gun, holding it on the gunman until police arrived. Police described Engle as “extraordinarily brave” for his actions.
Five of the shooting victims as well as the gunman were taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for treatment. As of 3:30 p.m., Minister Spann was listed as critical while everyone else was considered stable.
The usher and the final shooting victim were taken to TriStar Skyline Medical Center where they were last listed as stable.
Metro police said Samson was given an all-clear at the hospital around 3:30 p.m. and was immediately taken into custody upon his discharge.
The 25-year-old was charged Sunday night with one count of murder. A bond has yet to be set, and further charges are forthcoming.
While seeking the arrest warrant at the downtown Nashville courthouse, Det. Steven Holley explained to the judge, “When we interviewed him, he admitted to being in the church. Said that he arrived there this morning at about 10:55. He also admitted that at some point, he was wearing the mask that was being worn by the defendant at the church, and he admitted to firing shots.”
Metro police said Samson attended the church one or two years ago. He moved to the United States from Sudan in 1996 when he was four years old. He is a legal U.S. resident, but it’s unknown if he’s a legal citizen.
Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry released a statement that says “this is a terrible tragedy for our city.” She continued:
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. 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.
Federal authorities were also on the scene Sunday and said a civil rights investigation will be opened into the shooting. The following statement was released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office:
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 will collect all available facts and evidence. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.
An investigation led by the Metro Nashville Police Department is ongoing.
Roads around the church were shut down as the investigation continued into Sunday evening, including La Vergne Couchville Pike off Old Hickory Boulevard, and Hobson Pike.