Police: Church targeted because of liberal views

Police: Church targeted because of liberal views

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2008 10:58 pm

By DUNCAN MANSFIELD Associated Press Writer KNOXVILLE (AP) — Authorities 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. Knoxville’s police chief says the man accused of a gun attack at a church that killed two people and seriously wounded five others apparently selected the congregation because of its liberal social stance. Chief Sterling Owen IV said today that police found a letter in the car of Jim D. Adkisson, 58, who was tackled and held by members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church after the Sunday morning attack. Owen said Adkisson was apparently frustrated over being out of work and had a “stated hatred of the liberal movement.” The church is known for advocating women’s and gay rights and founding an American Civil Liberties Union chapter. Owen said the letter indicated Adkisson did not expect to leave the church alive and had 76 rounds of ammunition for his 12-guage semiautomatic shotgun. 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 Uni-versalist 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. Adkisson, 58, has been charged with first-degree murder and was being held on $1 million bail, according to city spokesman Randy Kenner. District Attorney’s Office special counsel John Gill said Adkisson was arraigned Sunday night. Gill declined to talk to The Associated Press about other details of the case, referring questions to the police. Adkisson was being held in jail today under “close observation,” Knox County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Martha Dolley said. cKendry, 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 today 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 this 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. Karen Massey, a neighbor to Adkisson, told the Knoxville News Sentinel about a lengthy conversation she had with Adkisson a few years back in which she told him her daughter had just graduated from a Bible college. She said she was surprised by his reaction when she told him she was a Christian. “He almost turned angry,” she told the newspaper. “He seemed to get angry at that. He said that everything in the Bible contradicts itself if you read it.” She also said Adkisson spoke frequently about his parents, who “made him go to church all his life. … He acted like he was forced to do that.” Authorities searched Adkisson’s duplex in a Knoxville suburb Sunday night and collected statements from witnesses and video from those using cameras to record the performance. The shooting started as about 200 people watched a show put on by 25 children. Church member Mark Harmon said he was in the first row when he heard “an incredibly loud bang.” He said he thought the noise was part of the play, then he heard another loud bang and saw a woman bleeding behind him as he dove for cover. “It seems so unreal,” Harmon said. His wife told him she saw the gunman pulling the shotgun out of a guitar case. Witnesses reported hearing about three blasts from the .12-gauge shotgun and said they didn’t recognize the gunman. Church members said one of the people who tackled the gunman was John Bohstedt, who played “Daddy Warbucks” in the performance. The church’s minister rushed back from a vacation in North Carolina to be with his congregation. “We’ve been touched by a horrible act of violence,” the Rev. Chris Buice said in a statement. “We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers.” Other Unitarian congregations in the area held tearful services after the tragedy. At a packed Westside Unitarian Universalist Church in suburban Farragut, congregants prayed, sang songs and consoled each other. The shooting follows a December 2007 spree in which a man shot four staff members at a missionary training center near Denver, Colo., killing two, after being told he couldn’t spend the night. About 12 hours later and 65 miles away in Colorado Springs, police say the 24-year-old man fatally shot a parishioner at a megachurch and wounded four others before killing himself. Associated Press writers Beth Rucker in Knoxville and Cara Rubinsky and Anna Varela in Atlanta contributed to this report. ——— On the Net: http://www.tvuuc.org Published in The Messenger 7.28.08

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