MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BP)–A gun battle broke out in a parking lot outside a Baptist church sanctuary as members worshiped inside. No one was hurt.
Police said shots were exchanged between men in two cars outside Walter Hill First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., May 20 over a drug deal gone wrong. None of the suspects is affiliated with the church.
Pastor F. Murray Mathis told Baptist Press he was getting ready to begin his children’s sermon when it happened.
“I was kind of leaned over with the kids and I heard the first shots,” Mathis recounted. “My first impulse was to ask people to lie down.”
One bullet hit the sanctuary’s outer wall.
Two members of the church’s security team ran to the sanctuary doors to find the source of the gunfire, Mathis said. At one point a church deacon found himself staring at a suspect holding a pistol. The deacon backed away and escaped unharmed.
Mathis credited the security team with protecting church members during the shooting. The team was created after the 1999 shooting at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Mathis said.
“We are located along a highway and we wanted to establish a security patrol for the peace of mind of our worshipers,” Mathis said.
Seven people were killed and others were injured when a gunman opened fire in the Wedgwood sanctuary on Sept. 15, 1999, during a youth rally.
Rutherford County Sheriff’s Detective Capt. Chuck Thomas said Richard Bain, 18, of Murfreesboro and a 16-year-old were arrested within minutes of the shootout and charged with aggravated assault. Police were looking for two men who were in the second car.
Authorities said they recovered a handgun and rifle at the scene.
In spite of the shooting, Mathis decided to continue the morning worship service. “We had a prayer of thanksgiving that no one was hurt and then we sang songs and choruses and continued the service,” he said. “It was the best thing to do.”
Two days earlier, two worshipers were killed when a gunman shot them during a revival service at Greater Oak Missionary Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Ky.
About 75 people witnessed the shooting deaths of Adrianne Nichole Radford and Mary Ann Turner. Police said Radford’s estranged husband, Fredrick Radford, shot both women. He is charged with two counts of murder.
The church is not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.