Police: Man shot churchgoers over liberal views By DUNCAN MANSFIELD, Associated Press Writer
An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, police said Monday.
Knoxville Police Chief Sterling Owen IV said a signed, four-page letter written by Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was found in his small SUV in the church parking lot after gunfire interrupted a children's performance based on the musical "Annie" Sunday morning. Seven people also were injured in the melee.
"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.
No children were hurt, but five people remained in serious or critical condition Monday. A burly usher who died, Greg McKendry, 60, was hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. A second victim who died hours later was identified as Linda Kraeger, 61.
The shooting started as about 200 people watched the show put on by 25 children. Witnesses said some of the church members wrestled the suspect to the ground after he pulled a shotgun from a guitar case and fired three times.
When the first shot rang out at the rear of the sanctuary, many church members thought it might be part of the play or a glitch in the public address system. Some laughed before turning around and seeing the shooter and his first victims covered in blood.
Jamie Parkey said Monday he was crawling under the pews with his daughter and mother when the second and third shots were fired. He saw several men rush the suspect.
"I jumped up to join them thinking the best way to stop this was to stop it," he told AP Television News. "When I got there they were already wrestling with him. The gun was in the air. Somebody grabbed the gun and we just kind of dog-piled him to the floor. I knew a police suppression hold and I sat on him until police came."
Adkisson, who is charged with one count of first-degree murder, remained jailed Monday under "close observation" on $1 million bail, authorities said. More charges were expected.
Court records from neighboring Anderson County indicate Adkisson threatened violence against his spouse several years ago. In March 2000 his then-wife, Liza Alexander, obtained an order of protection against him after telling a judge that Adkisson had threatened "to blow my brains out and then blow his own brains out."
The woman's written request for protection, reviewed by The Associated Press, said she was "in fear for my life and what he might do."
Calls placed to Alexander's home weren't answered Monday and the voice mailbox was full.
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 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-gauge semiautomatic shotgun into the church in a guitar case, but it appeared no specific person was targeted. A search of his house also turned up a .38-caliber handgun, Owen added.
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 individual Unitarian churches can vary dramatically in outlooks, 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.
Church member Amy Broyles, who is married to Parkey and was visiting the church to see her daughter in the play, reflected on the irony of the tragedy.
"This was a man who was hurt in the world and feeling that nothing was going his way," she said. "He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compassionately and be the ones to help someone in that situation."
The police chief said the shotgun was bought at a pawn shop about a month ago and Adkisson wrote the letter in the last week or so. But he added: "I am sure this is something that has been building a long time in terms of his anger."
He said the state recently sent a letter to Adkisson telling him food stamps he had been receiving would be reduced or eliminated.
Investigators were reviewing several video recordings of the performance by parents and church members. Owen said police would not release the videos nor Adkisson's letter until they have been entered into evidence.
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.
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