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

Profile image for Kristin M. Hall and John Raby
Kristin M. Hall and John Raby, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A masked gunman invaded a Nashville 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.

An usher confronted the shooter, who apparently shot himself in the struggle before he was arrested, police said.

No motive was immediately determined. Church members told investigators that the suspect had attended services a year or two ago, said Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metro Nashville Police Department.

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

Authorities identified the attacker as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, of Murfreesboro, who came to the United States from Sudan in 1996 and was a legal U.S. resident.

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

The gunman was discharged hours later from Vanderbilt University Hospital but remained in police custody. Warrants charging him with murder and attempted murder were pending, Aaron said.

Witness Minerva Rosa said the usher 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 fired. While the gunman made his way down the aisle, Rosa said, the pastor started shouting, "'Run! Run! Gunshots!"'

Aaron called the usher, 22-year-old Robert Engle, "an extraordinarily brave individual."

The woman who was killed in the parking lot was identified as Melanie Smith, 39, of Smyrna, Tennessee.

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.

Forty-two people were at the church at the time of the shooting, and that all victims were adults, Aaron said.

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 Burnette Chapel churchgoers as they reunited with loved ones.

New Beautiful Gate Pastor Michael Moseby said he is neighbors with Burnette Chapel pastor Joey Spann.

"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."

Raby reported from Charleston, West Virginia.

FEATURED PHOTO: Police investigate the scene outside the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ after a deadly shooting at the church Sunday in Nashville, Tenn. (Andrew Nelles, The Tennessean/AP)