By Mark Ellis —
Gloria Riches, 85, never misses a Sunday at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee. But on the morning when a Sudanese immigrant shot seven people and killed one woman, Gloria was uncharacteristically absent.
“I haven’t missed a Sunday in six months,” Gloria says. “But I did not feel well.”
The pew where Gloria sits would have placed her in the path of the shooter. “God took care of me yesterday,” she says. “I would have been right there.”
She got an urgent phone call at 11:15 Sunday morning from a close friend who had just witnessed the first woman shot outside the church. “She was hysterical; as she was getting in her car, she saw someone fall in front.”
Gloria knows the alleged shooter, identified as Emanuel Samson, 25. Samson is a legal U.S. resident who came from Sudan in 1996. “He hadn’t been to church in about 3 years,” she notes.
He was one of four Sudanese immigrants who attended the church “on and off” for several years.
“They always came in late and marched right up to the amen corner,” she recalls. She talked with them numerous times, but found their English-skills were lacking.
“They were very active in our Vacation Bible School. They took starring roles one summer. They were really very active.”
Gloria does not believe it was a random shooting. “He knew what he was doing. The girl he killed was shot first, she was going to her car because she was outside. He shot her first and then she went in the side door.”
The church had a big split several years ago, or there could have been more people present. “It has gradually weakened so we’re not having more than 40-60 people on Sunday,” she says.
The 22-year-old usher, Robert Caleb Engle, who tackled the shooter, is being called a hero. “The young man that saved the day is the finest guy. He has been going to the church since he was a little boy. He’s the kind that comes up and hugs me every Sunday.”
As the two men wrestled for the gun it accidentally discharged and shot Samson. “While he was down the young man (Engle) went and got his gun and held him until the police came.” Engle had a registered gun in his vehicle he was able to retrieve.
Melanie Crow Smith, a 39-year-old mother of two, was the first victim killed in the attack. “She was very nice, had gone through a divorce and had just gotten her life back together. So it was sad.”
On Facebook, Smith recently posted a Tennyson quote. “I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most.”
The Scripture reading that morning was from Luke, Chapter 8, the story about a woman who touched Jesus and was cured of bleeding.