With the lone suspect in a Nashville mass shooting still on the loose Sunday morning, area churches tightened security and heightened their focus on prayer.
“It was a scary thing to a lot of our people,” said Cathey Williams, the ministry assistant at Hickory Hollow Baptist Church, which is less than two miles from a Waffle House where Travis Reinking is accused of killing four people and injuring four others shortly after 3 a.m. April 22.
Screen capture from KTLA
Nashville churches “watched very close” Sunday morning after a gunman killed four people at an area Waffle House and then eluded police for more than 24 hours.
After a Waffle House customer wrestled away Reinking’s AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the suspected gunman fled seminude and likely armed, according to police. Some 160 law enforcement officials searched the area for more than 24 hours before Reinking, 29, was arrested April 23.
While he was still on the loose, a Metro Nashville Police Department spokesman said Reinking was exhibiting “signs of significant instability” and posed a threat “anywhere else he may go.”
At least seven Southern Baptist churches are within two miles of the crime scene, according to SBC.net’s “church search” function.
The 50-60 worshipers at Hickory Hollow heard a police helicopter overhead Sunday morning and didn’t let children in attendance go outside, Williams told Baptist Press (BP). Deacons charged with providing security “watched very close” as people entered the parking lot and the church building.
Hickory Hollow prayed for protection during Sunday School and the worship service, Williams said, adding that some church members live in the same apartment complex as Reinking and remained locked down in their homes for safety rather than coming to church Sunday.
At nearby Priest Lake Community Baptist Church, extra security was added outside and inside the building, pastor Harold James Frelix told BP. The predominantly African American church’s pre-K through fourth grade school also increased security April 23 as police continued what The New York Times called “a desperate search” for Reinking.
Though law enforcement officials say they have not determined Reinking’s motive, Frelix said he thinks the shooter may have targeted blacks and Hispanics, because “that’s who goes to” that particular Waffle House.
“We were very much concerned because we believed that” race played a role in the murders, Frelix said.
During Sunday’s worship service, with some 400 in attendance, Priest Lake Community prayed for “the sick mentally,” “the victims” at Waffle House and “those who may in the future be victims” of violent acts by Reinking, Frelix said.
“We are praying for those who are hateful,” the pastor said, “that they will desist. And we are praying that people will get together where they can live together and love together.”
Another area church, Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, saw one worshiper killed and others injured during a Sunday-morning shooting last year. The Waffle House shooting – less than two miles away – caused “confusion” and “anxiety,” said pastor Joey Spann, who was wounded in last year’s shooting.
Spann told Nashville’s News Channel 5 he would lead worship attendees in prayer for those affected by the Waffle House shooting. “God has all this,” he said, “and He’s in control. We don’t need to live in fear.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)