GEORGIA – The African-American Christian community is in shock following the killing of a volunteer staff member at one of the nation’s largest mega-churches.
Police say a gunman opened fire on Wednesday morning inside the chapel of Creflo Dollar’s giant church in metro Atlanta. According to reports, the suspect fled in a vehicle and was still at large after the shooting at World Changers Church International in College Park, Georgia.
Authorities are now looking for 52-year-old Floyd Palmer, a former church facilities maintenance employee who resigned from his position in August, citing personal reasons. Eyewitnesses said he calmly walked into the building and fired multiple shots.
It is still unclear how many shots were fired or whether the shooter knew his victim.
“This is a devastating event in the Body of Christ,” said Morris Tipton, director of media relations for the National Baptist Convention. “I am in prayer for the entire situation, the victim, the church family, and the perpetrator. What influenced his mind to the point he felt it necessary to take a life?”
Police say the victim, a man called Gregory McDowell, was a 39-year-old African-American male, a volunteer church member, who was leading the service for about 20 to 25 people at the time. Fulton County Police Cpl. Kay Lester said at a news conference that the slain man was transported to South Fulton Hospital, where he later died.
“I am surprised, horrified and shocked that something like this could happen at my church,” Robert Herbert, a member of World Changers Church for more than 23 years, told theGrio. “This will really rock the church. It’s a time for prayer for the victim’s family,” added Herbert, who is the president of a professional photographer’s network in Atlanta.
“At first I was concerned, that Pastor Dollar had been shot or a child,” 29-year-old Kaniesha Clarke, a member of World Changers, told NBC News. “I’m just really hurt that this happened in our community,” added Clarke, who was walking near the campus after she got word of the shooting.
Clarke’s mother-in-law, Corliss Price, has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. She told NBC News she couldn’t understand how the shooter managed to bring a weapon inside the chapel. “I’m just shocked with this kind of security here, that a man with a suit and gun could get in and start shooting.”
World Changers Church is one of the country’s largest churches and has numerous campuses across the country. Its website states that it serves nearly 30,000 members.
The church is led by the charismatic and high-profile Rev. Creflo Dollar, its founder and senior pastor. Dollar was not at the church when the shooting happened, said Lester at the news conference.
The church holds a mid-week Bible study on Wednesday at 10 a.m. in its chapel. All Wednesday evening services have now been cancelled.
Police are now looking for a black Subaru station wagon with black tinted windows. As a precaution, a few schools in the surrounding areas were placed on a temporary lockdown, but that lockdown has since been lifted.
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