KNOXVILLE, Tennesse - A man who shot and killed two parishioners during a children's play at a Tennessee church yesterday attacked the congregation because of its outspoken socially liberal and gay-friendly beliefs, police said.
The 58-year-old unemployed engineer accused in the Sunday morning attack at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, was driven to bloodshed in part by his "stated hatred for the liberal movement" as well as his hatred for gays, said Knoxville, Tennessee, police chief Sterling Owen. "We're certainly investigating it as a hate crime."
According to police, at about 10am yesterday Jim Adkisson strode into the church sanctuary as 200 parishioners watched a children's production of the musical "Annie". He pulled a .12 gauge shotgun from a guitar case and fire three rounds, killing two adults, police said. One of the dead was shot as he attempted to shield others from gunfire, witnesses said. Parishioners then tackled Adkisson and held him until police arrived.
"I do not believe he expected to leave there alive," Owen said. He said Adkisson had been planning the attack for a week, but added
"I'm sure this is something that's been building a long time."
Investigators described Adkisson as a former member of an Army airborne unit who trained as a mechanical engineer and had held jobs across the country. He had apparently been out of work since 2006, and believed liberals were taking jobs he should have, Owen said. Investigators are not aware of any affiliation with a church or with any known hate groups. Adkisson had no next of kin or family, police said.
According to a four-page manifesto police found in his SUV in the church parking lot, Adkisson believed the church to be a bastion of liberalism in an otherwise socially conservative area of eastern Tennessee.
"That church had received some publicity in the recent past regarding its liberal stance on things," Owen said, "and that is at least one of the issues we believe caused that church to be targeted".
The church's website speaks of its "long and rich history of taking stands for social justice," and said it has fought since the 1950s for racial desegregation, fair wages and equal treatment for women and homosexuals. It provides sanctuary for political refugees and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The church hosts social events for gay and lesbian teens.
The FBI logged 7,722 hate crimes in 2006, the most recent year for which complete statistics are available. That is down slightly from 2000. Hate crime attacks at churches are rare, according to FBI statistics. Only 4% in 2006 occurred at places of worship.
An FBI official said federal law enforcement officials were investigating whether to prosecute Adkisson for forcibly preventing the free expression of worship, a federal civil rights violation.
Adkisson is charged with first-degree murder and is held on $1m bail.
© 2008 The Guardian