NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CBSNewYork/CBS News/AP) — A masked gunman entered a church in Tennessee on Sunday and opened fire, killing at least one person and injuring seven others before apparently shooting himself in the head, an official said.
Officials say the shooting took place just before noon at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, roughly 30 minutes from Nashville.
The gunman arrived at the parking lot as services were being let out at the church, Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said at a news conference. He said the suspect fatally shot a woman who was walking to her vehicle. The gunman then entered the rear of the church, and six people were shot.
The pastor, David “Joey” Spann, was among those who were shot.
“During the confrontation, the church usher was pistol whipped. There was a significant struggle between the two. The gunman shot himself, probably not intentionally, in the left chest,” Aaron said.
Aaron said a church usher who confronted the gunman was pistol-whipped by the suspect, who then shot himself.
About 50 people were in the church at the time. Children attending Sunday school were among those inside.
“We just heard like three gunshots, and the little girl shut the door. And I heard somebody say, ‘Get down!’” said church member Jeremiah Reese, 10. “And we just started grabbing the couches and the chairs and we did everything we can to like barricade it.”
“He knocked one man out of a walker on the floor. Then the one guy he shot, hit his scalp up here because he had blood all down his face and everything,” said witness, Joe Love.
The Nashville Fire Department described the incident as a “mass casualty situation,” and said all the wounded — including the shooter — were transported to nearby hospitals.
The suspect — identified as 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson of Murfreesboro — was treated and released from the hospital. He was charged with one count of murder late Sunday and other charges are expected to follow.
Aaron said the suspect had two pistols when he entered the church. He says Samson came to the United States from Sudan in 1996 and was a legal U.S. resident “but not necessarily a U.S. citizen.” Samson had a Tennessee driver’s license.
Police say in addition to the two pistols Samson bought into the church, they recovered another pistol and a rifle from his vehicle.
The woman who was killed was identified as Melanie Smith, 39, of Smyrna, Tennessee.
Five of the surviving victims — identified as William Jenkins, 83; Marlene Jenkins, 84; the pastor Spann 60; Peggy Spann, 65; and Linda Bush, 60 – were taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Their conditions were all reported to be stable except Peggy Spann, who was reported in critical condition.
Two others – Katherine Dickerson, 64; and Robert Engle, 22 – were taken to TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville. Dickerson’s condition was reported to be stable, while a condition was not immediately available for Engle – identified as the hero usher who was pistol-whipped.
“Mr. Engle sustained serious injuries himself,” said Nashville police Chief Steve Anderson, “and he’s the hero. He’s the person that stopped this madness.”
Police said Samson had attended services at the church over the past couple of years. Congregants who witnessed the shootings were being interviewed by investigators.
Investigators have ruled out robbery as a motive.
The small, yellow 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.
All members of the church not wounded are in a safe location as officials set up a reunification area at nearby Beautiful Gate Church in Nashville.
The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office announced late Sunday that they have launched a civil rights investigation into the shooting. The FBI declined to comment further.
The Tennessee Red Cross went to the scene to assist members of the church as police continued to investigate the shooting.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)