After Deadly Shooting At Antioch Church, Congregants Wonder: 'Why Our Church?' | Nashville Public Radio

After Deadly Shooting At Antioch Church, Congregants Wonder: 'Why Our Church?'

Sep 24, 2017

Congregants who were inside Burnette Chapel Church of Christ during the shooting Sunday morning are beginning to talk through the deadly episode.

Mary Pitts says the shots started just as church was about to dismiss. She was near a restroom and locked herself inside with another woman until the gunfire stopped.

"We came out, and then I started trying to help one of my lady friends," Pitts says. "She had been shot in the arm. She was about ready to pass out."

Seven people were injured in the shooting, in addition to the gunman, who was shot by his own gun during a struggle with an usher. One woman, 39-year-old Melanie Smith of Smyrna, was killed in the parking lot of the church.

According to police, the suspected gunman, 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson, had attended the church in recent years. When investigators figured out the suspect's name, they let church members know, and some gasped: The immigrant from Sudan had previously attended their tight-knit congregation.

Congregants did not recognize him Sunday morning when he entered the church with two guns, because he was masked, police say.

Jeremiah Reese didn't know what was going on. The 10-year-old had barricaded himself in a room off the sanctuary — separated from his mother and sister.

"I was like, I don't even know if this guy is still alive or is my family dead or something," he says. "But I realized, if they die, they're in a better place."

Reese's mother, Michelle Dey, was in the baptism room with the same fears for her son.

"I knew I had to get out to make sure he was OK," she says. "So that's where I saw the gunman laying on the floor."

It's a congregation where she says everybody knows everybody, but she didn't recognize the masked man.

"I have no idea — why our church? It's a small church. We don’t have much money. What would cause somebody to do this?" Dey asks. "It happened for a reason, whatever reason that is. God has his plan."