That brief yet precious amount of time may have saved the lives last week of eight to 10 members of a predominately African-American church in Jeffersontown, Ky.
Gregory Bush, the man accused of gunning down two African-American shoppers at a Kroger supermarket, allegedly tried to enter the large, red brick First Baptist Church before turning his attention to the grocery store about 2 miles away.
Church administrator Billy Williams told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he was inside the church but never heard Bush trying to get inside the building. Had he been in his office, which has a monitor, he might have seen Bush, opened the door to him, and come face to face with death.
“Thanks be to God that no one opened that door,” said Williams, who is at the church nearly every day. “I would have opened the door and said, ‘Sir, can I help you?’ People come to this church for all sorts of reasons. They might need assistance or directions. You don’t think they are coming for harm.”
At the pastor’s urging, Williams later pulled up the video. The man stayed on church property for about 5 to 6 minutes, said Williams. About 70 members of an afternoon Bible study group had just left First Baptist about an hour earlier.
Williams recognized Bush from news reports.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is the same person who was at the church,’” he said. “I think my stomach probably just collapsed.”
A church member was outside in her car, talking to her son on the phone when she noticed the strange man. Something about him seemed off. She had never seen him before.
The woman called the pastor. It went to voicemail. She left a message that there was a man in neon green shoes and a hoodie circling the church and pulling on the church doors.
Later, news broke about the horrific shooting at the Kroger, which is now being investigated as a hate crime.
Maurice Stallard, a 69-year-old man shopping with his 12-year-old grandson for school supplies, was shot dead inside the store. When Bush left the store he encountered Vickie Jones, 67, and gunned her down in the parking lot.
Since the shooting, Williams has tried to reassure the congregation about safety measures put in place several years ago and recently upgraded. There are cameras inside and outside the building. There are off-duty police officers for Sunday services and one on Wednesday night for the weekly Bible study and youth meeting.
“I’m thankful that we secured our doors at a time when someone was trying to do something evil,” Williams said.
The attempt to enter the church happened days before 11 people were killed when a shooter opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Now, perhaps with a greater sense of urgengy, church officials plan to review security measures to make sure they are adequate, reinforce some doors, and add security during the afternoon Bible study.
Williams said he wants to protect the congregation, but not build a fortress.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people who come to church, come for positive reasons, not negative,” he said. “We don’t believe it’s conducive to have 100 people sitting in service and all of them have a gun.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.