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Gunman opens fire in Tenn. church, two killed

Monday, July 28, 2008

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- A man wielding a shotgun entered a church and opened fire as congregants watched a youth performance Sunday, killing one person and injuring eight others, police said.

The gunman was tackled by church members and eventually taken into police custody. None of the children were injured. A hospital spokeswoman said five of the wounded were in critical condition.

Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen identified the man killed as Greg McKendry, 60, a longtime church member and usher at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

"It appears Mr. McKendry was the first person [the gunman] encountered when he walked into the sanctuary," Owen said. "It's going to be a while before all the facts are cleared up."

A church member who arrived moments after the shooting said the gunman fired three times and was tackled. Steve Drevick said he spoke to several eyewitnesses and that no one at the church recognized the gunman. He did said the gunman had more ammunition on him.

Officials wouldn't say exactly how many people helped subdue the gunman.

"It was a large group and we are thankful for them for without it, this situation could have been even worse," Mayor Bill Haslam said.

There were about 200 people at the time of the shooting watching a youth performance being put on by 25 children.

Church member Marty Murphy told The Knoxville News Sentinel that she was about 30 to 40 feet from the shooter when the rampage began.

"We heard the first shot," she said. "It sounded like a bomb went off. We thought it was part of the program at first."

She said church members hid under church pews and others ran out the sanctuary.

Murphy told the newspaper some of the children were close to the shooter when the attack began.

"One little girl had blood all over her," she said. "She was just hysterical. I don't know how that girl is going to sleep tonight."

Another witness told the newspaper that the man killed was a hero.

"Greg McKendry stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us," Barbara Kemper said.

Police had cordoned off the church with yellow and red tape, and were taking statements and collecting video cameras from church members who were taping the performance. Owen said the FBI also was assisting in the investigation.

The church's minister was on vacation in western North Carolina at the time of the shooting but returned Sunday afternoon.

"We've been touched by a horrible act of violence. We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers," the Rev. Chris Buice said in a statement outside the church.

The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is a community that meets to worship and work together for social change, according to the church's Web site. Since the 1950s, the congregation has worked for desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women's rights and gay rights, according to the Web site. The congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the ACLU.


On the Net:

www.tvucc.org


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