NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A minister said Tuesday that he thought he was dying after being struck twice by bullets during a mass shooting that killed one woman at his Tennessee church last weekend.
From his wheelchair at a hospital, minister David “Joey” Spann told reporters the masked gunman at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Nashville shot him in the chest and in the hand. Another bullet whizzed past his ear.
The 66-year-old, who lost a finger due to his injuries, says he’s thankful to be alive after Sunday’s shooting.
After his wife, Peggy, saw he was shot, Spann said, she started crying out his name in the church.
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“I said, ‘Honey, he’s killed me,'” Spann said during a news conference at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “And I said, ‘I’m dying. And I’m sorry.'”
Some of the women at his church were nurses and applied pressure to his wound. Hospital staffers said that probably saved his life, Spann said. Peggy Spann was also shot and is in the same hospital. Spann said it was an emotional moment to see her early Tuesday, but she’s doing OK. He did not say what injuries she received.
The gunman killed 38-year-old Melanie L. Crow of Smyrna, Tennessee, in the church parking lot and caused non-life threatening injuries to six others, including the Spanns, police have said. Crow’s visitation is scheduled for Wednesday and her funeral will be Thursday.
Police have charged 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson with murder and have said more charges will likely follow. He’s scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office announced Sunday in a statement that they were opening a civil rights investigation into the shooting, but they would not say exactly why.
Authorities said Samson came to the United States from Sudan as a child in 1996 and is a U.S. citizen. Police have not determined a motive yet. Church members told investigators that Samson had attended services a year or two ago.
The shooting unfolded as Spann was shaking hands with people as they funneled out of church. Crow was the first to leave and went out to her car, after which Spann heard several popping sounds, he said.
Spann said the man approached firing the gun, bullets hitting the glass door. Spann yelled at a church attendee to run, threw a container at Samson, to no avail, and moved forward to try to “get him.” Spann said Samson shot him and carried on shooting after that, without saying anything.
“I thought he was going to shoot everybody,” the minister said.
Robert Caleb Engle, a 22-year-old usher, tackled Samson, and in their struggle, Samson shot himself, although it wasn’t clear if he did so intentionally, police said. They said Engle retrieved his own gun from his car and held Samson until officers arrived.
Spann has been well known in the community for 40-plus years. In addition to his role as pastor of the church, where he’s a minister, and a teacher and basketball coach at Nashville Christian School.
Spann almost died once in February 2011 from a sudden cardiac arrest while coaching a basketball game and was revived with a defibrillator.
“I was back coaching by the spring,” Spann said. “I don’t know what this is going to do. But I’m going back to teaching and coaching and preaching.”
The minister said he can’t figure out why someone would shoot up his church. He said he didn’t know if Samson held a conflicting religious belief, or “he just lost it.”
Spann said doesn’t think the attack was racially motivated, but he’s “sure everything’s going to be thrown at this to see what sticks.”
Still, Spann said he doesn’t have any hard feelings for the shooter.
“If I had the opportunity to talk to him, I would,” Spann said of the shooter. “And I would try to help him.”