(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — A 22-year-old church usher was heralded as a hero after he confronted a masked gunman who opened fire at a Tennessee parish on Sunday as services were ending.
Police said Robert Engle, an usher at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville, Tennessee, engaged in a struggle with the suspected shooter, Emanual Samson, 25, after he allegedly opened fire at the church on Sunday morning, killing one woman and wounding six others.
“He’s the hero,” Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said at a news conference on Sunday. “He’s the person who stopped this madness.”
Samson allegedly entered the church’s parking lot around 11 a.m. and fatally shot 39-year-old Melanie Smith as she walked to her car after service, police said.
The suspect is believed to have been there for at least several minutes before church service let out, according to police.
Samson, who was wearing a neoprene half-mask, then entered the church and began to shoot “indiscriminately,” wounding six people who were later treated for non-life-threatening injuries, according to police.
Engle confronted the gunman in an effort to keep him from shooting more people and was pistol-whipped in the process, police said, adding that the suspect accidentally shot himself in the chest while struggling with Engle.
Engle eventually ran out to his car to retrieve his own pistol, which he used to hold the suspect at gunpoint until police arrived, officials said.
The young usher, who said he has attended the church since he was a small child, does not consider himself a hero.
“I do not want to be labeled a hero,” Engle said in a statement Sunday. “The real heroes are the police, first responders and medical staff and doctors who have helped me and everyone affected.”
He also asked for people to pray for those who were affected by the shooting.
“I ask everyone to pray for the victims, family members of the victims, our church community. Please pray for healing,” Engle said in another statement. “Also, please pray for the shooter, the shooter’s family and friends. They are hurting as well.”
One witness, Minerva Rosa, said the situation could have been worse if Engle had not intervened.
“He’s amazing,” Rosa told reporters on Sunday. “Without him, I think it could be worse. He was the hero today.”
Rosa, who has been a member of the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ for eight years, said the suspect was silent as he fired shots inside the church. She said she heard the pastor shout “Run! Run! Gunshots!” as the gunman made his way down the aisle.
Engle’s grandmother, 69-year-old Rheta Engle, told a local newspaper that she was proud of him.
“That’s like him. He’s just someone who cares about a lot of people. He has all their feelings at heart,” she told the Tennessean on Sunday afternoon. “It would make any parent, grandparent very, very proud of him.”
Blake Langford, Robert Engle’s friend, described him as a “gentle giant.”
“He’s just a great guy,” Langford told the Tennessean. “Just one of the kindest human beings you’ll ever meet.”
Robert Engle was released from a local hospital on Sunday night and is back home with his family, according to local news outlets.
Samson, who police said had attended the church within the past two years, was treated at a local hospital for a gunshot wound and is expected to be charged with one count of murder, with additional charges pending, according to police.
The motive for the shooting is unclear.
The Memphis FBI Field Office’s Nashville Resident Agency, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee have opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
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