Church members prayed for safety day before man with guns showed up

Church members prayed for safety day before man with guns showed up

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Bellevue Baptist Church members believe they were lucky to escape Easter without any injuries.

"It could have been way worse," Jacqueline Johnson said. "It was a moment where I kind of looked at my family and we kind of wondered. I have a younger daughter that is in nursery, and she was out of reach."

Johnson was in the sanctuary Easter Sunday when a man brought guns and ammo in through the front door. She said it was something she never could have expected.

"That was almost the furthest thing from my mind that would be happening, especially on an Easter Sunday," Johnson said.

Police identified the man as Marcus Donald. He is in custody and has been ordered to undergo a mental evaluation. Donald was also arrested in 2007 for disorderly conduct.

On Easter, he told police he carried a .40-caliber Beretta and a .300 Blackout rifle because people in society are a threat to him and he must be vigilant. Memphis Police Department confirmed he had a permit to carry the weapons and is not facing weapons charges.

Church members actually showed up at Bellevue Saturday for a service praying for protection.

Bellevue Baptist Church sent a letter to all church members explaining what happened. In the letter, the church said Donald ran toward the sanctuary when the church's head of security discovered Donald had a backpack containing a rifle and ammo.

Bellevue Director of Security, Andy Willis, immediately approached the young man and identified himself as a Memphis police officer. He told Andy he had a permit to carry. Andy informed the young man that if he was going to come to the church service, they needed to walk him back to his car for him to put his gun and backpack in the car. Andy asked him for his pistol and then disarmed the weapon. He asked the young man if he could put the pistol in his backpack. When he opened the backpack, he saw that there was another weapon inside, along with ammunition. Andy then called for assistance. When the other officer arrived, the young man tried to run toward the sanctuary. Before he entered the sanctuary, Andy and the other officer were able to apprehend him and handcuff him until the police arrived.

Click here to read the entire letter Bellevue Baptist Church sent to church members.

"He [Donald] said Memphis was a dangerous place, and he needed to protect himself," Willis recalled from the incident. "He was trying to run deeper into the body of our building, and we just weren't going to let that happen."

Willis said guns are only allowed inside the church if the church gives the gun owner special authorization.

Donald was arrested in 2007 for disorderly conduct.

Church staff said it was a volunteer who notified Willis about the weapons.

"At that point, the guy rolled off his knees, on to his bottom, on his feet and took off running," Willis said. "We didn't know what else he had, We didn't know if he had a bomb. We just didn't know; all we knew we this guy is trying to run deeper into the body of our building."

Johnson said the pastor made sure the service went on as planned.

"I was very pleased with the way he handled that and I was glad that it wasn't anything more," Johnson said.

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