Jamie Parkey thought the blast that ripped through the sanctuary of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was part of the play his daughter and other children were putting on. Then he saw blood on another parishioner behind him and saw a man with a 12-gauge shotgun calmly firing away at the congregation.
“He had the gun leveled in our direction,” Parkey told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Monday, one day after the gunman killed two church members and wounded six others before being wrestled to the ground by parishioners. “That’s when I pushed my mother and daughter to the floor and got under the pew. When I saw the men rushing him was when I got up to join them.”
Parkey was one of the people who tackled 58-year-old Jim D. Adkisson, kicking the shotgun away and holding the gunman on the floor with an arm-bar hold. Parkey’s 16-year-old daughter was in the play, and he had been sitting in the front of the church with his mother and his 6-year-old daughter when the attack began.
Parkey’s wife, Amy Broyles, was in the church’s glass-enclosed quiet room with their 2-year-old daughter when Adkisson walked into the Knoxville sanctuary, pulled the shotgun out of a guitar case and opened fire.
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The first shot
“I was there with our 2-year-old and heard the first shot,” Broyles told Lauer from Knoxville. “Our daughter had come out on the stage. Then another shot, and I saw Jamie pushing people down to the floor. I looked right outside the window of the room and the man was standing right there with a rifle, shooting. I grabbed the baby and dropped to the floor against the door so that he couldn’t see or be able to come in if he tried to.”
Broyles said she could hear the men tackling Adkisson right outside the door she was sitting against. When she heard her husband’s voice, she knew that he and her family were safe. “He wouldn’t have left them if they were injured. I was very thankful that my family was safe, but my heart is breaking for the families that were not,” she said.
Although none of her children was hit by shotgun pellets, Broyles said, “Our 6-year-old was very, very upset; lots of crying, and she had blood all over her dress and her arms and legs.”
People were screaming and one person injured in the attack was said to have suffered minor injuries from being trampled. But Broyles and Parkey said that there was very little panic.
“For the situation, everyone responded phenomenally,” Parkey said. “June and Kevin Spooner mobilized and got the kids out the back.” Vicki Masters, the director of the play the children had been rehearsing for all summer, yelled for people to get out of the building. Another woman ushered children to the Presbyterian church next door after the gunman was subdued.
“Everybody did exactly what they needed to do,” Broyles added. “There was very little panic,
Adkisson is being held in lieu of $1 million bail while local police, with the assistance of FBI agents, gather evidence and search his home in a neighboring town. Police say they found a letter in Adkisson’s car which said that he planned the attack, that he couldn’t find a job, and “stated his hatred for the liberal movement.” The church has been active in seeking equal Video: Gunman kills 2 in Tenn. church rights for women, minorities and gays, and founded a local chapter of the ACLU.
One of the dead was identified as Greg McKendry, 60, an usher and long-time congregant who stood in front of the gunman to protect other church members.
“He was one of the most generous and helpful persons I ever met — a friendly, warm, big, giant bear of a man,” church member Mark Harmon told NBC News. “I can’t believe he’s gone.”
McKendry died at the scene. Another congregant, 61-year-old Linda Kraeger, died in a hospital Sunday evening.
Broyles and Parkey said that the minister and parishioners of the neighboring Presbyterian church came to the Unitarian church after the shooting to help, bringing drinks and food to the shaken congregants. “We appreciate them tremendously,” said Broyles.
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