Georgia teen pleads guilty in plot to kill worshippers at Black church

Supporters hold signs across the street from Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville last year after police foiled a teen girl's plot to kill Black parishioners.
Supporters hold signs across the street from Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville last year after police foiled a teen girl's plot to kill Black parishioners.

Credit: Elissa Benzie

Credit: Elissa Benzie

A teenage girl who plotted to kill members of a predominantly Black church in Gainesville pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon and apologized for her actions.

Caitlyn Pye, now 17, was arrested last fall after authorities foiled her plan to stab worshippers at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

She entered a negotiated plea to one count of attempted murder and was sentenced to a juvenile justice facility until age 21, followed by a decade of probation, Hall County court records show.

Gainesville High School administrators learned of the plot last November after Pye’s classmates told them she had a notebook containing “detailed plans to commit murder” at the church, authorities said. Drawings found in the notebook indicated the plot had been in the works for several weeks, according to police.

The administrators notified school resource officers, who launched an investigation and arrested the teen.

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“Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” Gainesville police Chief Jay Parrish said at the time.

Pye, who is white, collected knives and even the visited the church twice last November, authorities said. Bethel AME typically held Bible study on Wednesdays, but fortunately, no events were planned those evenings, Rev. Michelle Rizer-Pool told AJC.com

“If you’re 16 years old, you should be planning for college and getting ready for prom,” she said Thursday evening, “not thinking evil and wanting to hurt people.”

Rev. Michelle Rizer-Pool preaches at Bethel AME Church in Gainesville.
Rev. Michelle Rizer-Pool preaches at Bethel AME Church in Gainesville.

Credit: Elissa Benzie

Credit: Elissa Benzie

Prosecutors said Pye was a follower of Dylann Roof, the man who fatally shot nine congregants at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.

Bethel AME installed cameras and beefed up security following Pye’s arrest, but Rizer-Pool said some members are still on edge nearly a year later. The plot also hindered her efforts to attract new congregants to the church, which holds in-person services just once a month nowadays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At her sentencing hearing Thursday, Pye apologized for her actions and told the judge she has changed since her arrest, Channel 2 Action News reported.

“I am very sorry,” she said. “I want to let you know it was a mistake.”

In addition to her sentence, Pye is prohibited from going near any AME churches in Georgia or contacting any of Bethel’s members.

While Rizer-Pool is grateful the teen will remain behind bars for now, she wasn’t aware Pye had been offered a plea deal until she arrived at Thursday’s hearing. The reverend said she knows people who are serving much longer sentences for drug possession and theft convictions.

“I guess once the gavel is hit I have to accept it, but the reality is I’m thinking about so many other crimes and people I know who had to suffer (in prison) for something less than attempted murder," she said.

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