NORWOOD, Mo. – A man is in custody after witnesses say he opened fire during a July 21 worship service at First Baptist Church in Norwood, Mo. Worshippers tackled him before anyone was shot.
One man injured his shoulder in the scuffle, but no other injuries were reported.
Pastor Stephen Fugitt was about halfway through his morning sermon when a man carrying a “high-caliber” revolver entered the church and fired two or three shots, Fugitt told The Pathway, the newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. The suspect shot at least once while walking toward the platform, Fugitt said.
“He pulled his gun up and before he could fire, one of the guys grabbed his arm (just before he pulled the trigger) and it (the bullet) went up into the ceiling,” the pastor said.
Several more men piled onto the suspect and wrestled the gun away from him until the Wright County Sheriff’s Department could arrive.
“He’s a pretty big guy,” Fugitt said. “They weren’t going to let him up.”
Deputies later discovered a shotgun in the back seat of the suspect’s car.
Fugitt praised God that no one was seriously injured, and thanked the men who acted quickly to subdue the suspect at the church that draws about 60 worshippers Sunday mornings.
“They saved lives I’m sure,” he said.
The church has had previous contact with the suspect.
“It wasn’t totally random,” Fugitt said.
Worshippers had last seen the suspect in early June when he threatened to return to the church with a gun, Fugitt said. The church called an ambulance which took the man to a psychiatric hospital after the June threat, Fugitt said. Previously, the suspect had been to the church only two or three times over the past three or four years, the pastor said.
Everyone remained relatively calm after the shooting, said Fugitt who led worshippers in a prayer before they left the church. Fugitt asked other churches to remain alert and have a plan to deal with emergencies such as this.
“We actually have a plan, but it happened so fast, not much else could have been done except what happened,” Fugitt said.
The alleged gunman’s name has not been released, but he was in custody today (July 22) with charges pending.
About 600 people live in Norwood, 30 miles east of Springfield.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Koonce is a staff writer with The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. The federal government has released a guidebook to help churches respond to shooters and other on-site emergencies as part of President Obama’s executive actions to fight gun violence.)