July 28, 2008 -- The gunman who yesterday shot up a Tennessee church that embraced gays and other liberal causes left behind a long letter fuming that he couldn't find a job and expressing a profound "hatred for the liberal movement," police said today.
Jim D. Adkisson, 58, ranted that "liberals and gays" taking jobs had prevented him from finding work. He wrote that he expected to keep shooting parishioners until the police showed up and killed him, Knoxville, Tenn., Police Chief Sterling Owen told a news conference.
Owen said police recovered 76 shotgun shells after Adkisson allegedly opened fired in the sanctuary of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. Three shells had been fired before church members tackled Adkisson, but two people were killed and five more wounded by the blasts before he was wrestled to the floor.
The angry gunman invaded the Knoxville church on Sunday and began blasting away as more than 200 parishioners were packed inside to watch a children's performance of the musical "Annie."
Adkisson was tackled by church members when he paused to reload while terrified church members ducked beneath pews or ran screaming from the church.
Investigating as a 'Hate Crime'
Adkisson, an out-of-work mechanical engineer, left a four-page letter in his car in the church parking lot in which he railed against liberals and the fact that he had been unable to get a job since 2006. Owen said Adkisson was also angry that his food stamps were about to be reduced or eliminated.
"It appears what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, frustration over that and his hatred for the liberal movement," Owen said.
The chief later added, "He did express that frustration that the liberal movement was getting more jobs and he was being kept out of the loop because of his age" and because he wasn't liberal.
"It appears he did choose that church intentionally," Owen said, possibly after it had received some publicity for its advocacy of liberal causes. "We're certainly investigating it as a hate crime."
Owen said Adkisson had been preparing for his assault on the church "for a week or so."
But his anger had apparently been boiling over for a while. "I'm sure this is something that has been building for a long time," Owen said.
Held on Murder Charges
Parishioner Barbara Kemper told the Associated Press that Adkisson said some "hateful things" before he started shooting, but Owen would only say that the gunman spouted something that "wasn't very complimentary."
Despite the presence of the children, Owen said, "There was an indication he was not targeting the children." No children were injured in the barrage.
Because many parents in the church was believed to be filming the show, police are looking for video evidence of the rampage.
Owen said he believed that Adkisson was a former member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and that he purchased the shotgun from a pawn shop. His only previous brushes with the law were a pair of driving under the influence charges.
The alleged gunman told police that "he had no next of kin and no family," Owen said.
Adkisson has been charged with first-degree murder and was being held on $1 million bail under "close observation," Knox County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Martha Dolley said.
Hero Loses Life
The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church promotes progressive social work, including advocacy of women and gay rights. The Knoxville congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site.
Karen Massey, a neighbor to Adkisson, told the Knoxville News Sentinel about a lengthy conversation she had with Adkisson a few years ago in which she told him her daughter had just graduated from a Bible college. She said she was surprised by his reaction when she told him she was a Christian.
"He almost turned angry," she told the newspaper. "He seemed to get angry at that. He said that everything in the Bible contradicts itself if you read it." She also said Adkisson spoke frequently about his parents, who "made him go to church all his life. … He acted like he was forced to do that."
The shooting instantly created heroes inside the crowded church.
Greg McKendry, 60, died as he attempted to block the gunfire. Kemper described the burly McKendry as "a refrigerator with a head." She said McKendry "stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us."
Church members said one of the people who tackled the gunman was John Bohstedt, who played "Daddy Warbucks" in the performance.
A second victim was identified as Linda Kraeger, 61. She died at a hospital hours later. Five of the wounded remained hospitalized.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report