KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Authorities on Monday were investigating why an apparent stranger entered a Unitarian church and opened fire during a children's performance based on the musical "Annie," killing two, including a burly usher hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire.
No children were hurt, but seven adults were wounded as frightened congregants dove under pews and ran from Sunday's shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, authorities said. Witnesses said some of the men present tackled a man who pulled a shotgun from a guitar case before at least three loud blasts rang out.
Jim D. Adkisson, 58, has been charged with first-degree murder and was being held on $1 million bail, according to city spokesman Randy Kenner.
Church members praised Greg McKendry, 60, who died as he attempted to block the gunfire. Church member Barbara Kemper told The Associated Press that McKendry "stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us."
"Greg McKendry was a very large gentleman, one of those people you might describe as a refrigerator with a head," said church member Schera Chadwick. "He looked like a football player. He did obviously stand up and put himself in between the shooter and the congregation."
A second victim was identified as Linda Kraeger, 61. She died at a hospital hours later, Kenner said.
Five others remained hospitalized Monday in critical and serious condition. Two others were treated and released Sunday.
The gunman's motive was not known, but Kemper said the gunman shouted before he opened fire.
"It was hateful words. He was saying hateful things," she said, refusing to elaborate.
The FBI was assisting in case the shooting turned out be a hate crime, Police Chief Sterling Owen said. Police said they would hold a news conference Monday morning.
The church promotes progressive social work, including advocacy of women and gay rights. The Knoxville congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site.
Haters like this one are why I continue to reach out to our less friendly members of the community with hope that through our interaction they will see the error of such thinking. I am reminded of Jacob Robida right now, and sadly many many more incidents in our history that people would rather forget than learn from.
Every incident like this is another opportunity for the Church to step forward and give a direct comment denouncing all forms of violence against all people. Let's see if they bother commenting here or if they simply keep the status quo. Cardinal O'Maley, you have a responsibility to lead people in times like these. You're silence is the most disturbing of all. Clearly when it comes to being an effective leader in times of need you are simply a pawn of the Church, the same Church that installed you hoping to quell the outrage of parishioners in the sexual abuse scandals. What a fine job of bait and switch you have done to the GLBT community, leaving us the transferred aggression from the sins Church leadership like you are responsible for.
One question I have to ask people who spend too much time focused on the affairs of their neighbors is this; if you have found the way to happiness, why don't you seem happier than me? Perhaps if you spent less time fixated on what others are doing and spent more time on building your own inner peace you would be more like He whom you claim to follow. Happiness comes from within, not from taking your neighbor's life because you are intolerant of how they exercise their free will. Hate doesn't always take the form of violence, sometimes it comes in the form of a dirty look, or an off color comment, but it always causes harm rather than good. We can help lessen that impact by our own actions and examples.
In the silence of your spiritual leaders, who has enough love in their hearts to stand up and denounce all forms of violence with me even when we disagree on key issues in our society? Look in the mirror and "be the change you wish to see in the world." ~Gandhi
Ed Brayton has more on this.