Beliefnet
Beliefnet News

Associated Press
Knoxville, Tennessee – An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal social policies, police said Monday.
Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV said a signed, four-page letter had been recovered from the SUV of Jim D. Adkisson, 58, by investigators.
“It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that and his stated hatred of the liberal movement,” Owen said at a news conference.
Authorities said he was an apparent stranger to the Tennessee church where gunfire punctuated a children’s performance based on the musical “Annie.”
A burly usher who died is being hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire Sunday at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Witnesses said some of the men present tackled a man who pulled a shotgun from a guitar case before at least three blasts rang out.
Two people were killed and seven wounded Sunday, and five remained in serious or critical condition Monday. No children were hurt.
Adkisson, who is charged with first-degree murder, remained jailed Monday under “close observation,” authorities said. Bail was set at $1 million. More charges were expected.
The Unitarian Universalist 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.
Owen said the letter indicated Adkisson, who neighbors said had previously worked as a truck driver, did not expect to leave the church alive. He added the man also reported having no family or next-of-kin.
“He certainly intended to take a lot of casualties,” Owen said. “He had 76 rounds with him.”
Police said Adkisson carried a 12-guage semiautomatic shotgun into the church in a guitar case, but it appeared no specific person was targeted in the church. Owen said he bought the gun at a pawnshop about a month ago.
Owen said authorities believe the suspect had gone to the Unitarian church because of “some publicity in the recent past regarding its liberal stance on things.”
Unitarians have roots in a movement that rejected Puritan orthodoxy in New England. Although the outlooks and beliefs of individual Unitarian churches can vary, most congregations retain a deep commitment to social justice, which has led many to embrace liberal stances on the ordination of women, civil rights and gay rights.
The shooting started as about 200 people watched a show put on by 25 children.
Church members praised Greg McKendry, 60, who died as he attempted to block the gunfire.
Barbara Kemper said that McKendry “stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us.”
Kemper said the gunman shouted before he opened fire.
“It was hateful words. He was saying hateful things,” she said, refusing to elaborate.
“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.
Officials said Adkisson was arraigned Sunday night and faces his next court appearance Aug. 5.
Associated Press writers Beth Rucker in Knoxville and Cara Rubinsky and Anna Varela in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus