An in-depth look at a Church Shooting Incident
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds (Proverbs 27:23).
The Final Altar Call
It was May 18, 2001, the Friday evening of a revival series at Greater Oak Missionary Baptist Church. This was the 21st anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, but for the members of the church this date would mark a more personally tragic anniversary. For two members, this would be their final altar call.
As the service neared its conclusion and the evangelist issued an altar call, a nervous man came in. A witness saw a gun as he walked by. He went to where his wife and their child sat on the front pew and sat down next to her. When he whispered in her ear, she moved away, pulled out her phone, and tried to make a call. He moved closer, and she kept scooting away, begging him to not kill her. The man grabbed his son, lifted his gun, and shot her fatally.
After the man stood up, another woman in the congregation stepped in and tried to take the boy away. He shot her too. Still holding his son, he tried to shoot himself, but the gun jammed. He later told a judge that he had intended to kill himself.
Leaving the church, he drove away, but it was not long before he was stopped by the police chief. After a quarter hour stand-off, he surrendered on the condition that his son would ride with him to the police station.
The killer had been a former minister in another city about 40 miles away. At the time of the shooting he lived in Hopkinsville and worked in Tennessee. No news stories say why he left the ministry.
Not all was well at home. We do not know all the details, but there was physical abuse, apparently fueled by anger. The shooting was a couple of months after the wife moved out. She had filed for a domestic violence [restraining] order after he had threatened her.
On Thursday, the day before the service, the man had called his wife and threatened her again. She told a friend, but did not report the latest threat. She did not think he would go through with it, but this time the threat was real.
As stated above, the wife had secured a restraining order for domestic violence. What the violence was and for how long were not revealed in the news stories, but a memorial told of threats. She planned to file for divorce and move to another state. What triggered the attack was her intent to take their son with her.
We do not know where the man got the handgun but it was listed as stolen - "Receiving Stolen Property" was one of the counts in his indictment. What matters is that he was the only person in the church who was armed. This was a small church, and only about 60 to 75 persons were present that Friday night.
The killer was also a felon. The Kentucky Online Offender Lookup (KOOL) lists "Possession of Firearm by Convicted Felon" as another count on which he was convicted. It has no details, so we do not know what the felony was or if this was related to his leaving the ministry.
There is much that we do not know about follow-up to the shooting at Greater Oak Missionary Baptist Church. We do know that he stood trial, changed his plea to guilty, and was sentenced to 125 years. KOOL lists 70 years for the murder, 10 years on the weapons charge, and 5 years each on other charges. He is still in prison.
The son was placed with relatives.
Any changes in security, if any, which the church may have made were unavailable at the time of research.
A church building which looks old enough to be the same one sits at the church address of 2010 Kirkpatrick Street. It is actually the only church building on that street. Directories and newspaper notices list a Greater Oak Baptist Church at that address. Currently, the church at that location is the Community Baptist Church, a name which dates at least as far back as April 28-29, 2012. However, a 2015 community transportation plan still lists that place on a map as "Greater Oak Baptist Church," which would have been the name when the planning began or have not been updated in the source documents. Whether the congregation changed its name or another one took over the building, we do not know.
The primary lesson we can learn from the 2001 church shooting in Hopkinsville is Take Threats Seriously.
Apparently some in the congregation knew that violence was why the wife left the killer. The person she stayed with knew of the threats. We do not know what counsel she received.
Looking back, someone probably wishes they had told her what to do if threatened. When her husband threatened her, she should have told both the police and the pastor. The facts that he was a felon and that he had a domestic violence order against him were reason enough to believe that a death threat was real and would be acted on.
Prov. 27:23 says, "Know well the condition of your flocks." The leadership of a church needs to be aware of how members are and what they are facing. The members need to have enough trust in their pastors to confide in them. Did she say anything, even to the pastor's wife?
If they knew of the threat, they could have had someone watch out for the husband. He should not have been able to just come in and go down to where she was. The easiest precaution would have been to lock the doors once the service began. Since this was a death threat, they could have insisted that she report it to the police. If he showed up outside a locked door, someone could have called the police then.
However, there is another side to consider. The wife and the congregation may have been hesitant to bring the police into the situation. This was an African-American church in a Southern town, a situation where police were not always trusted. Looking back at how the police chief calmed the husband, they could have been trusted at that time and place. Therefore, a second lesson is Build positive relationships with the police and with the community.
Sheepdog Church Security Resources
- Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Training Courses, Sheepdog Church Security: Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills]; Training Bundle (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills-training-bundle].
- Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/active-shooter].
- Kris Moloney, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/verbal-de-escalation/].
- Jennifer Shemwell, "Former minister sentenced to 125 years for church slayings," Kentucky New Era, December 13, 2002 [http://www.kentuckynewera.com/article_c94df93f-6816-5980-b538-6153bec53654.html].
- Deseret News Staff, "Kentucky gunman kills 2 in church," Deseret News, May 20, 2001[https://www.deseret.com/2001/5/20/19587192/kentucky-gunman-kills-2-in-church].
- News on 6 Staff, "TWO dead in shooting at church service," News on 6, May 19, 2001[https://www.newson6.com/story/5e3683062f69d76f62097c2b/two-dead-in-shooting-at-church-service].
- Staff, "Offender Information: Radford, Fredrick Montclair," Kentucky Online Offender Search, as of February 1, 2021 [http://kool.corrections.ky.gov/KOOL/Details/47889].
- Brandy Wells Murray, "Adrianne Nicole Shakespeare Radford," Find A Grave, 7 Feb 2007 [https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/17843613/adrianne-nicole-radford].
- Anon, "Hopkinsville Kentucky Churches and Religion Resources," areaConnect, no date given [https://hopkinsville.areaconnect.com/churches.htm].
- "Religion: Church Directory," Kentucky New Era, April 28-29, 2012, accessed through Internet Archive [http://chronicalingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/].
- Consultants & Staff, "Hopkinsville--Christian County Comprehensive Plan: Transportation Element," Community and Development Services, Draft: January 6, 2015 [https://comdev-services.com/wp-content/uploads/editor/assets/transportation%20element%20draft%201-6-15.pdf].