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Concerns rise over church safety after deadly mass shooting in Nashville

(Fox 17 News photo)

As church members gathered for their first service since a gunman opened fire on the congregation last weekend, safety remains a top concern.

The largest mass shooting in a church in Nashville history happened three days ago at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch.

Metro Police described a chaotic scene as a masked attacker armed with two guns shot seven people and killed one woman before he was subdued on Sunday. All of the other injured church-goers are in stable condition as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The church leader yelled for the congregants to run after the attacker came through the church silently shooting, according to a witness Sunday in a Nashville neighborhood. According to the affidavit, Emanuel Samson was "firing randomly at parishioners."

Metro Police said they are still investigating the motive for the shooting. Samson has previously attended the church after legally entering the U.S. from Sudan, but had not been an active member in years.

Church minister Joey Spann was recovering from gunshots to the hand and chest at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he's reflecting not just on the shooting but the safety of his church.

"There has to be something done about security, I guess,” Spann said. "I don't know what it would be."

He’s not the only church leader thinking twice.

"We have enjoyed tranquility of the church being a safe haven,” said Frank Stevenson, lead pastor at City of Grace Church. “This has disturbed that. We all are thinking about and being cognitive of how we can make our churches safer, how we can be intentional about having our eyes and ears open.”

Often churches don't have armed security guards on the property because leaders say it undermines the message that everyone is welcome. Jaime Johnson, CEO of J.S. Security Consulting, said there are alternatives.

“The churches can formulate security teams within the church,” Johnson said. “They can hire professional security companies to do security assessments.”

Church Usher Robert Engle, 22, helped bring Sunday’s shooting to an end.

Police said Engle was pistol whipped as he confronted Samson, who then apparently shot himself during the struggle. Engle then went to his car to get his personal handgun to hold Samson until police arrived.

Security Expert Buford Tune, of the Academy of Personal Protection and Security, said that approach isn't always appropriate.

"We don't need a bunch of cowboys and Clint Eastwoods running around out here just because they think something is going to happen,” Tune said. “Everybody starts wanting to get a gun and solve the world's problems."

Spann said he plans to return to the church as soon as he's healthy, but now he'll also have to consider safety as well as his faith.

“I never thought about that until this happened,” Spann said. “Churches, you don't lock the doors, but we may have to. It's sad.”

Police arrested the accused shooter Emanuel Samson at the church.

He now faces charges including murder and attempted murder and is set to appear in court on October 6. Additional charges are expected.

The ATF and FBI are investigating. The U.S Justice Department is looking at this case as a possible civil rights case.

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