First Baptist Church in Carthage designed its fellowship hall to be used in a disaster, but church leaders expected it would be a hurricane or a flood, not a mass shooting in the small town.
Carthage officials used the fellowship hall on Sunday to talk to about 300 people who had relatives at Pinelake Health and Rehab center, where a gunman killed eight and wounded two others Sunday.
Thomas Herndon, the pastor at First Baptist Church and a chaplain for the town’s police department, said N.C. Rep. Jamie Boles came in to the back of the church just as the 11 a.m. worship service was ending. Boles, who also serves as the area’s medical examiner and owns a local funeral home, told Herndon that the town needed a place to talk to the relatives, who were then in the parking lot of the Courthouse nearby.
“When I went outside it was just people everywhere,” Herndon said.
Church members made tea and coffee for the relatives, who didn’t have much information about the shooting then.
“The whole place was in turmoil,” Herndon said.
Boles asked Herndon if he would pray, which he did.
“People just calmed down after that,” Herndon said.
County officials read out a list of names and asked those related to them to step outside.
“Those were the ones who were either killed or wounded,” Herndon said.
Those relatives were taken to separate rooms in another building, where they received counseling.
Herndon said church members felt God’s hand guiding them as they ministered to the relatives.
“We were able to share our faith and help them with their needs,” he said.
Herndon said he first heard about the shooting from a church member who is a resident at Pinelake. She called the church at about 9:55 a.m. and told Herndon that there was a shooting going on at the facility.
Herndon went and told the resident’s husband who was about to go to the center when his wife called back and asked him not to go. Herndon let the man talk to his wife.
“She was naturally quite disturbed and upset about what was going on,” Herndon said.
In the worship service, Herndon announced that there had been a shooting but he didn’t have details. He preached from Matt. 12:9-14, which tells about how the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus. The sermon was titled, “The Beginning of Hostility.”
At the end of the service, church members prayed for those involved in the shooting.
Herndon said he has talked with Chris McKenzie, the town’s police chief, who he described as a “well respected, fine Christian man.“
“He’s under a tremendous amount of pressure,” Herndon said.
McKenzie’s parents, Tommy and Worthy McKenzie, are active members at the church.
At a press conference the day after the shooting, the police chief said the Carthage community has strong faith.
“Faith will get this community through this,” he said. “I believe that.”
McKenzie said the officer who stopped the shooting was the only one on duty when the shooting happened on Sunday morning. The number of officers on duty is based on the call volumes at those times, he said.
“I’ve mentioned many times we’re faith-based,” he said. “Everybody’s in church.”