More than two dozen worshippers at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Stonecrest got sick when two men released pepper spray in the middle of the Sunday morning service, authorities said.
At least one person was taken to the hospital and 28 other parishioners were treated after complaining of burning eyes and difficulty breathing, Channel 2 Action News reported.
The incident occurred between 10:30 and 11 a.m, police said. An off-duty DeKalb County police officer working security at the church identified the substance as pepper spray after being called inside, according to an incident report.
The officer instructed the church members to step outside for fresh air after the pepper spray caused many of them to cough and hack.
“It was terrible,” said New Birth member Cece Carr, who couldn’t understand why people were rushing outside and gasping for air. “It was like a quick exodus out of the door.”
In a video posted to his Facebook page, Pastor Jamal Bryant said he was about 10 minutes into his sermon when “chaos broke out in the sanctuary.”
“Two men came in our sanctuary in the middle of service and, we believe, unloaded pepper spray — sprayed it on the ground until fumes began to come up,” Bryant said. “People were running out of the sanctuary. People were gasping, people were crying, people were screaming.”
Those believed to have released the pepper spray were described as two young men wearing hoodies. In a statement, New Birth said the church’s security team is working with DeKalb police to identify the suspects.
“None of our members were injured and we thank the local first responders for promptly addressing this matter,” the church’s statement read. “We have initiated a full-scale review of our security procedures and protocols and we will exhaust ourselves to ensure New Birth remains a safe place to worship and fellowship.”
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact DeKalb police.