Knoxville shooter may have been motivated by ‘hatred of the liberal movement.’
Greg McKendry, 60, a member of the board and an usher, died soon after being shot. Linda Kraeger, 61, died Sunday night at a local medical center. She was a member of Westside Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville and had come to TVUUC to attend the play.
Injured were Joe Barnhart, 76; Jack Barnhart, 69; Betty Barnhart, 71; Linda Chavez, 41; John Worth Jr., 68; Tammy Sommers, 38; and Allison Lee, 42. Three are still in critical or serious condition.
Police arrested Jim D. Adkisson, 58, of Powell, Tenn., minutes after the shooting on a charge of first-degree murder. The Knoxville News Standard reported Monday that Adkisson's ex-wife, Liza Anderson, had been a member of the church.
Witnesses reported hearing three shots fired before Adkisson was tackled by church members while trying to reload his 12-gauge, semiautomatic shotgun. McKendry, the first to be shot, may have been trying to stop the man, members said. Police arrived within minutes.
Knoxville Police Department Chief Sterling Owen IV said at a press conference Monday morning that a four-page letter written by Adkisson had been found in his car. The letter described his “hatred of the liberal movement,” Owen said. “Liberals in general, as well as gays.” Owen also said that Adkisson blamed the liberal movement for his failure to get a job.
TVUUC is active and well known in the community for its support of equal rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, women, and people of color. It sponsors the Spectrum Diversi-Tea & Coffee House for LGBTQ teens. In 2006, TVUUC’s youth group joined Spectrum members in organizing a demonstration in a Knoxville park after two same-sex teens were harassed for holding hands.
The morning worship service, attended by about 200 people, was to feature a performance of “Annie, Jr.” by approximately 25 children in the church’s summer musical theater workshop. None of the children were wounded.
The Rev. Chris Buice, minister of TVUUC, was vacationing in Asheville, N.C., and returned to Knoxville Sunday afternoon after being notified of the shootings. Debriefing and grief counseling sessions will be held at the church Monday night followed by a candlelight gathering.
Owen said that the shooter had a large cache of ammunition on him at the time of the shooting but that he was unable to use it because members of the congregation quickly subdued him.
Unitarian Universalist Association President William G. Sinkford said in a statement Sunday: “A tragedy such as this makes us acutely conscious of the beauty and fragility of our lives and those of our loved ones. I am especially saddened by this intrusion of violence into a worship service involving children and youth. I know that many people, both in Knoxville and around the country, are struggling with shock and grief right now. I pray that those so affected will find strength and comfort.” Sinkford traveled to Knoxville Monday morning.
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Trauma Response Ministry were dispatched to Knoxville Sunday to offer additional ministry to the congregation as it grieves.
Jamie Parkey and Amy Broyles had visited TVUUC several times and were there on Sunday. In an interview broadcast on a local TV channel, Parkey said, “I heard a loud boom, I thought it was microphone feedback. I turned around and the person behind me was bleeding. Then I looked to my right and saw (a man) with the shotgun leveled off.” Parkey joined other men who rushed at the shooter. He said they “dog piled” him to the floor and held him for police.
Parkey and Broyles said they had already decided to join the church and Sunday’s experience reinforced their decision. “Now that this has happened, having experienced that with them today we definitely want to be part of this congregation,” said Broyles.
Mark and Becky Harmon are longtime members who met and married at TVUUC. Becky Harmon told a TV reporter that she saw the gunman fire his first shot. “Within seconds people were tackling him. The hardest part was there were so many children there and they all had to see this. It was just devastating.”
Mark Harmon added, “This is a very courageous congregation. Not just the three or four people who tackled the gunman, but also the religious education director who got the children out of the way, and the people afterward who consoled each other.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.