The Burnette Chapel Church of Christ has asked for "continued prayers and support" after a masked gunman stormed into the Nashville-area church on Sunday, shooting seven people, including the pastor, and killing one before being subdued by a church usher.
"We kindly ask that no one attempt to enter the building at this time," the church wrote in a Facebook update Monday morning. "The prayer vigil tonight @ 7 PM will be held outside 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. 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."
Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, is currently being held without bond on a first-degree murder charge after he arrived at the church armed with two handguns on Sunday morning and "fired upon the church building," according to a State of Tennessee affidavit.
After killing Smith, 39, as she walked to her car, Samson entered the main sanctuary door, at the rear of the church, and "began indiscriminately shooting," wounding six. Many of the 42 churchgoers screamed while some ducked under church pews and others pretended to be dead, according to reports.
A church usher, Caleb Engle, 22, confronted the gunman and was "pistol whipped," causing "significant injuries" to the man. Engle then ran to his car and retrieved a handgun, ensuring Samson did not make any more movements until officers arrived.
"It would appear he was not expecting to encounter a brave individual like the church usher," said Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. "He's the person who stopped this madness."
Engle, who has since been labeled as a "hero" for his actions, said in a statement released Sunday evening that he'd attended the church since he was a small child and asked for prayers for both the victims and the shooter.
"I ask everyone to pray for the victims, family members of the victims, our church community. Please pray for healing. Also, please pray for the shooter, the shooter's family and friends. They are hurting as well," Engle said.
The church's minister, Joey Spann, and his wife, Peggy, were among the injured, Nashville Christian School said in a post on Facebook. Joey Spann is a Bible teacher and coach at the school, according to the statement.
Other wounded attendees included William Jenkins, 83; Marlene Jenkins, 84; Linda Bush 68; and Katherine Dickerson, 64.
Samson, who came to the U.S. from Sudan in 1996, had attended the church multiple times one or two years ago, church members told authorities. Shortly before the incident, he posted a series of cryptic messages on Facebook.
"You are more than what they told us," one post said.
A second post read, "Become the creator instead of what's created. Whatever you say, goes."
Samson's final post read, "Everything you've ever doubted or made to be believe as false, is real. & vice versa, B."
Kenny Love, a Nashville-area singer, told NBC he went to highschool with Samson and that the gunman didn't have any obvious mental issues.
"Only thing I can go off of is maybe he spoke to somebody who got into his head. He wasn't big on religion. I think maybe the devil got to him," he said. "Or maybe he was going through something and no one knew it."
Aaron said police are currently determining a motive for the shooting but are not ready to release it publicly: "There are certain things that have come to our attention that are under investigation, but that remains to be announced," he said.
In a statement, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said the shooting was a "terrible tragedy."
"My heart aches for the family and friends of the deceased as well as the wounded victims and their loved ones," Barry said. "My administration, especially Metro Nashville police, will continue to work with community members to stop crime before it starts, encourage peaceful conflict resolution and promote nonviolence."