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Prayer vigils held after church shooting

NASHVILLE (BP) — Prayer services continue today (Sept. 25) as Nashville mourns yesterday’s mass shooting at an area church that killed one and injured eight others including the pastor at the close of morning worship.

Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, the site of the shooting, will host a prayer vigil today at 7 p.m. on the outskirts of its front lawn in Antioch, the church said on its Facebook page. The church noted its sanctuary is still an active crime scene.

“We are beyond grateful for the enormous outpouring of love and compassion we have received from so many after the tragic event that took place yesterday,” the church said. “We ask for your continued prayers and support during the coming days and months, especially for the family of our sweet and dear sister Melanie L. Crow, who lost her life. God’s blessings to you all.”

Area pastors and leaders including Nashville Mayor Megan Barry are expected to attend a vigil today at 3 p.m. at Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, pastor Jeff Brown told Baptist Press.

Sunday just after 11:15 a.m., 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson allegedly shot a worshipper dead outside the church before entering the sanctuary and firing his handgun indiscriminately, Nashville police reported. The rampage ended after Samson was shot during a struggle for the gun with church usher Caleb Engle, police said. With Samson wounded and Engle bleeding from being pistol whipped, the usher managed to retrieve his own handgun from his car and hold Samson at gunpoint until police arrived.

“I pray that through all of this that people will come to know Christ,” Engle said in a press release after being treated at Skyline Medical Center. “And I ask our nation to reflect on Romans 8:31: ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’

“I’ve been going to this church my whole life, since I was a small child,” Engle said. “I would have never, ever thought something like this would have happened.”

Police identified the murder victim as longtime Burnette Chapel member Melanie Crow Smith, a 39-year-old mother of two. She died at the church. Police charged Samson with one count of murder, with other charges pending, after he was treated and released Sunday from Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Burnette Chapel pastor David Spann, 66, was in stable condition today at Vanderbilt, according to its news and communications office. Also recovering at Vanderbilt in stable condition were Spann’s wife Peggy, 65; 83-year-old William “Don” Jenkins and his 84-year-old wife Marlene, and 68-year-old Linda Bush, police said. Katherine Dickerson, 64, was discharged from Skyline Medical Center this morning; Engle was released Sunday night, police said. Samson and treated and released from

Samson, a Sudan native who reportedly lives in the U.S. as a legal resident, himself attended the church several times about two years ago, members said. While the 50 or so members of the congregation include several ethnicities, federal authorities are investigating the incident as a possible civil rights crime, police said. No motive had been established.

Hours after the shooting, a prayer vigil attracted many community members to Nashville Christian School in the Bellevue community where pastor Spann teaches Bible and coaches basketball, WSMV-TV reported. Across town in southeast Nashville, about 100 community members gathered for a one-hour prayer vigil at Ezell-Harding Christian School where Spann formerly taught and coached, Upper School Principal Rachel Goode told BP. Don Jenkins, who Goode said owns a paper company, served 10 years as chairman of Ezell-Harding’s board of directors.

“Our community was hurting yesterday,” Goode told BP, “and so we wanted to offer a time and a place for everyone to just come together and lean on one another and bring these things to God. We had a good turnout and we feel like it was definitely something that was beneficial for everybody.”

Frank S. Page, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee president and CEO, expressed prayers and sympathy for the victims and survivors Sunday.

“Sadly, the violence that is rampant in our society has manifested its ugly head once again and, once again, this violence is combined with cowardice by targeting innocent people,” Page told BP. “Our prayers go out to this pastor, his wife and their congregation.”

Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore tweeted a prayer request: “Please pray for this church and for my city.”

Community members gathered near Burnette Chapel Sunday as police investigated the crime scene. Among them was Davida Roper, a member of the nearby Faith, Hope and Love Fellowship.

“What we came to do is pray, get as close as possible … (and) pray for these people, pray for the community, pray for this country, because it’s too much stuff going on these days,” she said in a video posted on the Nashville Tennessean’s website. “And it’s like now, you can’t even go into a church and praise God, without something happening. It’s sad, and we just came to just offer our condolences, and just to lift up some prayers, and just pray.”

The Nashville Tennessean described the tragedy as the largest mass shooting in the city’s history.

Samson, a body builder, has a history of domestic disturbances and suicide attempts, the Tennessean said. He was reported as the aggressor in two domestic disturbances this year, although no charges were filed, the newspaper said. On June 27, Samson threatened suicide in a text to his father, police told the Tennessean.