Fayetteville councilman calms church gunman
By Andrew Barksdale Staff writer Fayetteville (NC) Observer
A man with a semi-automatic assault rifle walked into a downtown Fayetteville church during a New Year’s Eve prayer service.
The church’s pastor is City Councilman Larry Wright.
The incident at Heal the Land Outreach Ministries, off Campbell Avenue, ended peacefully, although many of the 60 members in attendance were startled, and at least one person — a pregnant woman — slipped out of the service.
Wright said he was able to calm the armed stranger, take away his weapon and then pray for him before Fayetteville police officers arrived.
Someone had seen a man anxiously pacing outside before the man with the rifle entered at about 11:40 p.m. as Wright was delivering the sermon.
The man then said to the audience that the Lord had told him he needed to go to church before he did something bad.
The church is at 414 Hall St., six blocks from the Market House downtown.
Wright said the man, who has not been identified by police yet, was carrying the rifle without a clip in one hand and a loaded ammunition clip in the other hand. But, Wright said, he didn’t know if the rifle had a round of ammunition in it.
Wright stepped down quickly from the pulpit when he saw the man, who appeared to be in his late 20s.
The man continued moving toward the front of the church, pointing the rifle into the air.
The two met, near the front of the sanctuary.
“Can I help you?’’ the pastor asked the man.
Wright, who is a 57-year-old retired soldier, said the man’s answer determined his next action.
“If he was belligerent, I was going to tackle him,” said Wright, who is 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds.
But the stranger was calm, and Wright took the weapon from him. He then patted him down, and the pastor summoned four strong deacons to embrace the disarmed man, in an effort to make him feel welcome.
Wright then prayed for the man, who fell to his knees and began crying.
The man was then invited to sit on the front pew, and Wright resumed the Watch Night service. During the altar call at the conclusion, the man came forward and asked for salvation.
“He gave his life to Christ,” Wright said in an interview Saturday with The Fayetteville Observer.
Someone had called 911, and before the service had ended, police had arrived. But Wright said he asked the police to remain outside.
“I didn’t want to interrupt the service,” said the two-term councilman, whose church members call him Bishop Wright.
One of the church deacons, 67-year-old Sylvester Loving, said the congregation had been talking that evening about violence in other churches around the United States, before the man entered with the rifle.
“I think that night the spirit of God was definitely in the place,” Loving said.
Police Department spokesman Lt. David McLaurin said the incident was noted as a “Call for Service.’’ Notes regarding the call, McLaurin said, indicated the man was taken to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center at his request as a voluntary commitment.
Wright said he never got the man’s last name before he was escorted away, but he hopes to contact him again.
“I want to follow up with him and see that he’s getting the help and resources he needs,” Wright said.
Fayetteville (NC) Observer