EAST SELMA, Ala. (AP) — The pastor and members of the congregation that wrestled a gun away from a man police say opened fired in an Alabama church are being praised as heroes.
James Junior Minter, 26, is being held without bond in the shooting of his infant son, the child's mother and the church pastor, Earl Carswell, who tried to intervene Sunday morning, according to District Attorney Michael Jackson.
Selma police Lt. Curtis Muhannad said officials believe Minter was upset over a recent breakup with the 24-year-old woman and visitation issues with their son. His former girlfriend's name hasn't been released. Police have said the couple's domestic dispute was the likely motivation.
Minter was arrested shortly after police say he opened fire during a church service at Oasis Tabernacle Church in East Selma, Alabama. He's expected in court Monday afternoon, Jackson said.
Witnesses told police Minter entered the white, single-story church that sits on a tree lined, two-lane road and sat in the front row between the woman and the baby, according to a statement released by the Selma Police Department. Minter then pulled out a handgun and started shooting, the statement said. The girlfriend, 24, fell to the ground, and Minter fired at her, striking her in the jaw and shoulder. The baby, a 1-month-old boy, was shot in the hand.
Carswell, 61, then grabbed Minter and was shot in the leg. Members of the congregation helped subdue Minter and managed to wrest away his gun, according to police. Minter then ran out of the church.
"A whole lot more people could have been shot," Jackson said, "They all played a heroic role."
The pastor, woman and baby are in stable condition.
After he fled the scene, Minter was captured by police less than a mile away. His vehicle was left at the scene and a gun was recovered at the church, the statement said.
Former Selma Mayor and Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church minister James Perkins visited the scene and said he paused service at Ebenezer to pray for the victims Sunday morning.
"It's hard to comprehend it, it's hard to understand it but a lot of people are struggling. A lot of people are stressed," Perkins said. "We walk by faith, not by sight. We still have to believe that there's goodness in most people."
Minter was being held at the Dallas County jail.
Minter had been arrested before, police said. Court records show he was charged with misdemeanor menacing after he was accused as part of a group of three men who stopped James Campbell, 19, while he walked through a neighborhood in Selma on Oct. 15, 2010.
Campbell said in a statement to police that one man held a gun on him and punched him in the face while Minter and another man also held guns on him. No charges were filed until Campbell told police about the incident seven months later, and the case was dismissed without prosecution on June 30, 2011.
Court records do not indicate why prosecutors threw out the case.
Authorities also are investigating whether Minter violated a protective order, Muhannad said.
Jackson said worshippers having to be alert and on guard in a place meant to be a sanctuary was a shameful commentary on society. In June, nine black parishioners were gunned down during Bible study at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. A white man who had been photographed with the Confederate flag is charged. In the Alabama shooting, officials haven't mentioned race as a factor in the shooting at the church, where the congregation — including Minter, his former girlfriend and their son — is mostly black. The pastor is white.
"We've reached the point where all churches are gonna have to have cameras and check for weapons," Jackson said. "That's the way society is going now. It's the world we live in now."
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(Photo: Alaina Denean Deshazo/The Selma Times-Journal via AP)