Masked gunman kills woman, wounds several others at Nashville church

By Jonathan Allen and Frank McGurty

(Reuters) - A masked gunman killed a woman in the parking lot of a Tennessee church on Sunday morning and wounded six worshipers inside the building before shooting himself in a scuffle with an usher who rushed to stop the attack.

The shooter, identified as Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, walked into Nashville's Burnette Chapel Church of Christ wearing a ski mask and opened fire, Metropolitan Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron told reporters.

As the church usher grappled with the suspect, he was struck in the head with the gunman's weapon before the suspect fired and wounded himself in the chest, police said.

Although injured, the usher, 22-year-old Robert Engle, then retrieved a gun from his vehicle, re-entered the sanctuary and held the suspect at bay until police arrived.

"This is an exceptionally brave individual," Aaron said of the usher during a briefing outside the church in Antioch, about 10 miles (16 km) southeast of downtown Nashville.

About 50 people were worshipping at the church when the gunman entered. Samson was armed with two pistols and had another handgun and a rifle in his sport utility vehicle, according to a police statement.

Police had not determined the motive behind the shooting, but the spokesman said evidence was found that might establish why the man opened fire.

Church members told investigators Samson attended the church in the past, but not recently, Nashville police said in a statement.

Samson was charged with murder, and authorities planned to bring other charges against him, police said.

A churchgoer, Melanie Smith, 39, of Smyrna, Tennessee, was fatally shot in the parking lot, where she was found lying next to the suspect's blue SUV.

All but one of the six people wounded by gunfire were 60 or older and were taken to nearby hospitals, said Nashville Fire Department spokesman Joseph Pleasant. At least some of the wounded were in critical condition, he said.

The church's pastor, Joey Spann, was shot in the chest and was being treated at a hospital, WKRN television news channel reported, citing the pastor's son. The Nashville Christian School, where Spann is a coach and Bible teacher, said Spann's wife also was injured.

Samson was treated at a hospital and transferred to a jail. In a photo released by police, he was shown walking in blue hospital garb, as police officers led him along a walkway.

(Reporting by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Allen in New York, Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Simon Cameron-Moore)