KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, police said yesterday.
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 after gunfire erupted during a children's performance based on the musical "Annie" Sunday morning. Seven people also were injured in the melee.
"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 yesterday. A burly usher who died, Greg McKendry, 60, was hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. A second victim who died hours later was identified as Linda Kraeger, 61.
The shooting started as about 200 people watched the show put on by 25 children. 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.
When the first shot rang out at the rear of the sanctuary, many church members thought it might be part of the play or a glitch in the public address system.
Jamie Parkey said he was crawling under the pews with his daughter and mother when the second and third shots were fired. He saw several men rush the suspect.
"I jumped up to join them thinking the best way to stop this was to stop it," he told AP Television News. "When I got there they were already wrestling with him. The gun was in the air. Somebody grabbed the gun and we just kind of dog-piled him to the floor. I knew a police suppression hold and I sat on him until police came."
Adkisson, who is charged with one count of first-degree murder, remained jailed under "close observation" on $1 million bail, authorities said. More charges were expected.
Court records from neighboring Anderson County indicate Adkisson threatened violence against his spouse several years ago. In March 2000 his then-wife, Liza Alexander, obtained an order of protection against him after telling a judge that Adkisson had threatened "to blow my brains out and then blow his own brains out."
The woman's written request for protection said she was "in fear for my life and what he might do."