A man who the police say entered a Unitarian church in Knoxville during Sunday services and shot 8 people, killing two, was motivated by a hatred for liberals and homosexuals, Chief Sterling P. Owen IV of the Knoxville Police Department said Monday.
"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement," Chief Owen said of the suspect, Jim D. Adkisson, 58. "We have recovered a four-page letter in which he describes his feelings and the reason that he claims he committed these offenses."
Police officials said they had charged Mr. Adkisson, of Powell, Tenn., with first-degree murder.
Amira Parkey, 16, had just uttered her first lines as Miss Hannigan in “Annie, Jr.” when the performance at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was interrupted by a loud pop, witnesses said.
“We were just, ‘Oh, my God, that’s not part of the play,’ ” Amira said, adding that she saw a man standing near the door of the sanctuary and firing into the room.
It took a beat longer for fear to strike the audience.
“The music director realized what was going on and she yelled, ‘Get the hell out of here, everybody,’ ” said Sheila Bowen, 70, a church member.
Parents dove under the pews with their children, and the cast of young actors, some of them as young as 6, was quickly herded out of the sanctuary.
None of the victims were children.
Members of the church tackled the gunman and wrested his weapon, a 12-gauge shotgun, from him. The police received a call to the church at 10:18 a.m. and took the gunman into custody four minutes later.
At a news conference, Chief Owen said investigators believed the gunman had acted alone.
Two of the wounded were treated at the hospital and released, Chief Owen said, and the other five were in conditions from serious to critical. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the investigation, and Chief Owen said all videotapes of the service had been collected and were under review.
There were about 200 people in the church when the gunman opened fire, church members said.
Witnesses said that the gunman, carrying a guitar case, had first tried to enter the area where the children were preparing for the play, saying he was there to play music. But he was told to use the public entrance to the sanctuary instead.
Ms. Bowen said that the gunman was a stranger to the church and that she had seen him in the entry hall fiddling with the guitar case. She said she did not see him again until the shooting started.
It was when the man paused to reload that several congregants ran to stop him. Ms. Bowen said John Bohstedt, a history professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, was among them.
“He moved very quickly and he assessed the situation very quickly,” Ms. Bowen said. “He’s sitting on this guy. He had a package with him, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, and John was afraid that that might be a bomb, so John was screaming at everyone to get out.”
Jamie Parkey, who had been watching his eldest daughter from the front pew, said he turned to see a woman bleeding in the pew behind him. “I thought, ‘Did she have a nose bleed from the loud boom? Did she have a pacemaker blow?’ ” Mr. Parkey said. “It didn’t make any sense.”
He dragged his mother and middle daughter to the ground and then looked up to see several church members rushing the gunman, who was described as middle aged, tall and thin. Mr. Parkey’s wife, Amy Broyles, was in a soundproof glass nursery with the couple’s 2-year-old; she dropped to the floor and used her body to bar the door, which was near the gunman.
Mr. Parkey, who installs hardwood floors and is trained in martial arts, joined the others in trying to subdue the gunman, pinning the man’s arms behind his back until the police arrived to take the gunman into custody.
“I didn’t want him feeling around for a handgun,” Mr. Parkey said, adding that the package turned out to have been a prop for the play.
Chief Owen contradicted early reports that 13 shots had been fired, saying his investigators believed that the count was lower. He did not confirm the detail about the guitar case, but said the man had indeed concealed the shotgun as he entered the church.
Mr. Adkisson was being held on $1 million bail, a Knoxville city spokesman, Randy Kenner, told The Associated Press.
One victim who died was identified as Gregory McKendry Jr., 60, a church board member and usher. Chief Owen said it appeared that Mr. McKendry was one of the first people the gunman encountered when he entered the sanctuary.
The other person killed was identified by The A.P. as Linda Kraeger, 61, who died at the University of Tennessee Medical Center a few hours after the shooting.
The church’s minister, the Rev. Chris Buice, returned from a vacation in western North Carolina when he heard about the shooting. “I will tell you, Greg McKendry, we love,” he said before Ms. Kraeger’s death, his voice breaking. “We loved Greg McKendry. Please pray for this congregation because we are grieving the loss of a wonderful man.”
Amira Parkey said Mr. McKendry and his wife had recently become foster parents for a church friend of hers, Taylor Bissette, 16, who was also to be in the musical. According to a previous newspaper article that mentioned Mr. McKendry, he was an engineer with two grown children.
“This guy does not realize how many lives he totally destroyed,” Amira said of the gunman. “People who do this, they think they’ve got problems, but they destroy so many other people’s lives.”
Well, that's not what Christ intended, huh?