This past Sunday, just as services were concluding at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, gunfire tore through the church.
Emanuel Kidega Samson, a 25-year-old former member of the Burnette Chapel first gunned down Melanie Smith, 39, in the church’s parking lot. Smith died from the multiple gunshot wounds.
Samson then entered the church, armed with two pistols, and began firing randomly. Six more people inside the church were struck by gunfire. A 22-year-old church usher ran to Samson and began grappling with him. Samson pistol whipped the usher, Rogert Engle, but then Samson accidentally shot himself in the chest. Engle was able to subdue Samson and then retrieved a gun of his own from his car and held it on Samson until police arrived.
Samson was treated at a hospital for the gunshot wound he sustained, and was then promptly arrested as soon as treatment was complete. The members of the church recognized Samson as a former member of their church, but he had not been to mass in a couple years.
Samson’s aunt, Florence Koks, spoke to reporters about Samson coming to America in 1996 from Sudan. He was baptized at the Burnette Chapel Church, and led Bible study among Koks’ younger children when he visited her home.
One member of the church, Gloria Riches, 85, said that Samson and three other men from Sudan were very active members of the church before they left to attend a different church.
Samson’s posts on social media were often about self-improvement, or photos of himself at the gym. Other posts could include things like, “Rise and shine! It’s church time!”
Samson had been experiencing some trouble it seems over the past year or so. He had a few minor run-ins with local police. In one instance, his girlfriend called the police after he punched a TV during a fight. In another instance, Samson called the police to complain that his ex-girlfriend tried to force her way into his apartment. In both instances no arrests were made. On June 27th, Samson’s father called 911 to report that his son had texted him and threatened to commit suicide saying that he had a gun to his head. When police found Samson, however, he assured officers that he was OK and not going to harm himself.
While a lot has been revealed about Samson between Sunday and yesterday, his exact motives still are not known. We will have to wait for the investigation to unfold. In the meantime, the community in Nashville has organized prayer vigils and other gatherings. There have been messages of support online and in the media, including an official statement from the mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry.
While I may disagree with their religious beliefs, the people in that church still have the right to worship peacefully. It is tragic that this man felt he needed to violently attack these people who he had once shared many happy times with.