Following the arrest of a 16-year-old girl accused of plotting to kill those inside a predominantly black church in Gainesville, police plan to have an extra presence at the church’s Sunday services.
Gainesville police spokeswoman Cpl. Jessica Van told AJC.com that “there will be a police presence” at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for “extra measures.” She wouldn’t release specific details on those measures to avoid compromising “operational security.”
In a similar focus on security, Bishop Reginald T. Jackson sent an email to hundreds of AME churches advising that they lock their side and back doors this upcoming Sunday. Jackson is presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which includes the Hall County AME church.
The teenager, who is white, allegedly planned to attack the church during its Wednesday bible study on Nov. 13, AJC.com previously reported. However, Rev. Michelle Rizer-Pool said that no events were scheduled that night.
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“Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” police Chief Jay Parrish said Tuesday in a news release. “The church was immediately notified of the incident by Gainesville police to ensure the safety of our community and the current threat was under control.”
It’s not clear how she planned to carry out the alleged attack, but Parrish said the teen collected knives.
St. Philip AME Church Rev. William Watley told Channel 2 Action News he plans to follow Jackson’s emailed warning to beef up security in addition to his normal security team’s protocols.
“That’s the reality in which we live. We have to be prepared,” he said. “We never have an event where we don’t have security.”
He said his church will have armed security guards, security cameras and locked doors during all events, Channel 2 reported.
Annabella Wright, with Allen Temple AME Church, told the news station that her church will also lock the doors this weekend, but they will continue to host their normal weekly events.
“It’s not going to stop us from doing what we’ve been doing,” Wright said. “We’re going on. We’re just extra cautious.”
Gainesville High School administrators learned of the alleged plot from students who told them the girl had a notebook with “detailed plans to commit murder” at the church, Parrish said.
Administrators notified school resource officers last Friday and opened an investigation. They verified the threat and turned the investigation over to Gainesville police, who took the girl into custody, Parrish said.
She was charged with criminal attempt to commit murder and taken to the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center. Her name has not been released.
Investigators aren’t sure how long the teen had allegedly been planning the attack, but “disturbing information” and drawings police found indicate the plot had been in the works for at least two weeks, according to Gainesville police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Holbrook.
Jackson previously said he wants the girl tried as an adult. He said “To plan this kind of event is not that of a childish mind.”
He will be at Bethel AME Church on Sunday to address the congregation during the 11 a.m. service.
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