By DUNCAN MANSFIELD
Associated Press Writer
12:23 PM CDT, July 28, 2008
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian 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. Authorities said he was an apparent stranger to the Tennessee church where gunfire punctuated a children's performance based on the musical "Annie." Two people were killed and seven wounded Sunday.
"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 is being hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. 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.
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.
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.
Adkisson lived in a surburb north of Knoxville, about a 20 minutes' drive from the Unitarian church in an established neighborhood of older homes and several other houses of worship.
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 started as about 200 people watched a show put on by 25 children.
Church member Mark Harmon said he was in the first row when he heard "an incredibly loud bang." He thought the noise was part of the play, then he heard another bang and saw a woman bleeding as he dove for cover.
"It seems so unreal," Harmon said.
Church members praised Greg McKendry, 60, saying he attempted to block the gunfire. Barbara Kemper said that McKendry, who died, "stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us."
Kemper said the gunman shouted before he opened fire, though police said others didn't recall him saying anything.
"It was hateful words. He was saying hateful things," she said, refusing to elaborate.
"Greg McKendry was a very large gentleman, one of those people you might describe as a refrigerator with a head," said church member Schera Chadwick. "He looked like a football player. He did obviously stand up and put himself in between the shooter and the congregation."
A second victim who died hours later was identified as Linda Kraeger, 61.
Officials said Adkisson was arraigned Sunday night and faces his next court hearing Aug. 5.
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.