Gunman opens fire in church; at least 2 dead

A gunman opened fire at a church youth performance Sunday, killing two people, including a man witnesses called a hero for shielding others from a shotgun blast.

Seven adults were also injured, but no children were harmed at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Members said they dove under pews or ran from the building when the shooting started.

Congregants tackled the gunman.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was charged with first-degree murder and held on $1 million bail, said city spokesman Randy Kenner.

The slain man was Greg McKendry, 60, a longtime church member and usher. Church member Barbara Kemper said McKendry “stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us.”

Linda Kraeger, 61, died at University of Tennessee Medical Center a few hours after the shooting, Kenner said. Five people remained hospitalized in critical or serious condition. Two others were released.

Kemper said the gunman shouted before he opened fire.

“It was hateful words. He was saying hateful things,” she said, but refused to elaborate.

The FBI was assisting in case the shooting turned out be a hate crime, Police Chief Sterling Owen said. Police were collecting video cameras from church members who taped the performance.

Authorities searched Adkisson's duplex in the Knoxville suburb of Powell on Sunday night.

Neighbors described him as a friendly man who would often work on his motorcycle outside and go on long rides on the weekends.

The shooting started as about 200 people watched 25 children perform a show based on the musical “Annie.” Church member Mark Harmon said he was in the first row. “It had barely begun when there was an incredibly loud bang,” he said.

As he dove for cover, he realized a woman behind him was bleeding. She looked like she was in shock, touching her wound, he said.

Harmon's wife told him that she saw the gunman pull the shotgun out of a guitar case. Witnesses said they did not recognize the gunman.

Church members said the gunman was tackled by John Bohstedt, who played “Daddy Warbucks” in the performance.