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Church killings

In or near U.S. churches
1974 to 1999-JUL

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Killings in or at American churches 1974 to 1999:

bullet1974-JUN: Atlanta, GA
bullet1980-JUN: Daingerfield, TX
bullet1999-MAR: Gonzales, LA
bullet1999-JUL: Bloomington, IN

Killings in or at American churches 1974 to 1999:

Date Church Location Toll Motivation/cause
1974-JUN-30 Ebenezer Baptist Church Atlanta, GA 2 killed, 
1 injured
Mental illness?
Political views?
1980-JUN-22 First Baptist Church Daingerfield, TX 5 killed;
11 injured
Mental illness
1999-MAR-11 New St. John Fellowship Baptist  Gonzales, LA 3 killed; 
4 injured
Family dispute
1999-JUL-04 Korean United Methodist 1 Bloomington, IN 1 killed Racism

1974-JUN: church killing in Atlanta, GA:

Mrs. Alberta Christine Williams King (1903-1974) was the daughter and mother of Christian ministers. She was also the wife of Martin Luther King Sr.  Mrs. King was the musical director at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, from 1932 until her death. Marcus Chennault (1951-1995) of Dayton OH murdered her during a Sunday church service. He was described as a "young black man", 2 and a "deranged gunman." He "stood up from a pew inside the church as she played "The Lord's Prayer," and shot her. 1 Edward Boykin, a church deacon, was also killed; another man in the congregation was wounded. 2 The gunman's original goal was to kill Martin Luther King Sr.  Chennault believed that black Christian ministers were deceiving African-Americans. He was convicted and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison. 

1980-JUN: church killing in Daingerfield, TX:

Alvin Lee King, was an apparently mentally unstable individual who was an Atheist, held a PhD in psychology, and appeared to be prone to committing criminal acts. In 1966, he accidentally killed his father with a shotgun. One week before going to trial on a charge of allegedly molesting his daughter, he tied his wife to the kitchen table, dressed in a military uniform, picked up rifles and pistols, went to the First Baptist Church, entered the church, and yelled "This is war." Within ten seconds, he had killed five parishioners (one child of 7, three men and one woman). 12 were wounded (some sources say 10 or 11). Some men in the congregation pushed King out of the sanctuary; some died while doing this. King ran to a fire station and shot himself in the head. This first attempt at suicide was unsuccessful. He was arrested. Two years later, he hung himself in jail. His case never went to trial. 3,4,5

In an eerily strange coincidence, some young people at the church had organized a demonstration a few weeks before the tragedy. They dressed in military clothing and carried rifles into the church, pretending to be communists who were there to outlaw Christianity. They took people captive, removed them from the room and pretended to shoot them. When Alvin King broke into the service, some of the parishioners thought that the youth play was being repeated. 

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1999-MAR: church killing in Gonzales, LA:

Shon Miller Sr., 22, allegedly killed his mother-in-law, Mildred Vessel. He then went to his wife's church during the Wednesday night service. "He first shot two bullets straight up, then told everyone to get down as he headed deliberately to the front in search of his estranged wife. He found her on the fourth row." 6 He killed his wife, Carla Vessel Miller and his son Shon Miller Jr.  Finally he started shooting at random, killing another parishioner and wounding four others. He calmly stopped to reload in the middle of the killing spree. The suspect was later shot and wounded by police. He was paralyzed by one of the bullets. Church leaders said that they would never use the building again.

1999-JUL: church killing in Bloomington, IN:

On 1999-JUL-3/4, a senior member of the Creativity Movement (formerly called the World Church of the Creator W.C.O.T.C.), Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, went on a shooting rampage through the mid-west, killing one African-American and one Korean-American. Six orthodox Jews and three African-Americans were wounded. Smith then committed suicide. His church organization promotes a plan whereby whites would take over the world. Their slogan is RAHOWA (RAcial HOly WAr). They teach hatred of Jews, gays, lesbians, African-Americans and all other non-whites. But when one of their members murders or assaults a member of a racial minority, they claim that they do not promote violence, and thus are in no way responsible for the attacks. Matt Hale, head of the W.C.O.T.C, was asked what he had to say to Smith's surviving victims and the families of the people who died, he commented: "We really just don't have anything to say to them. And that's part of our church. We do not socialize with the other races." 7,8

The Korean-American murder victim was Won-Joon Yoon, age 26. He was shot on JUL-4 outside his church in Bloomington IN. He would have begun his doctorate in economics at Indiana University in the fall of 1999. 

The mayor of Bloomington, John Fernandez, spoke at Won-Joon's funeral. He said, in part:

"Mr. Yoon [Sr.] asks a very poignant question, and people have been contemplating for some time as to how America is being torn apart. I believe that an equally important question to ask is, 'What are we doing to hold it together?'...To keep our country from being torn apart by racial hatred, we must act, to continue to send the message of tolerance and peace in a nonviolent and dignified way."

The Anti-Defamation League had monitored Benjamin Smith for over a year prior to his rampage. Spokesperson Harlan Loeb, said:

"His rhetoric was fairly inflammatory, but until this episode, it was substantially rhetoric. What it tells you is the consequences of words can be fairly significant, the consequences of hate and creed can be very, very destructive." 9

Won-Joon Yoon was killed by a stranger because of his race. It is possible that the murderer drove to the Korean Church in the hopes of targeting  Korean-American individuals. Yoon was targeted because of his race, not his religion. The killing could have happened at a Korean community center, or on any street that Won-Joon Yoon happened to be walking beside. This was a killing motivated by racism, but inspired by religious belief towards non-whites.


The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Ebenezer Baptist Church Atlanta, GA," at: http://www.chapel-music.com/Installations/Ebenezer/ 
  2. "Atlanta History Center," at: http://insiders.com/atlanta/main-attractions2.htm 
  3. Untitled web page at: http://serialkiller.systemy.it/mirror/murder1.html 
  4. "FW attack brings back memories of 1980 shooting in East Texas," 1999-SEP-16, Dallas Morning News, at: http://www.dallasnews.com/metro/churchshooting/ 
  5. "First Baptist Church," at: http://www.angelfire.com/tx/yainkee/king.html 
  6. "Church murders shock community, prompt action from neighboring churches," Christian Daily News, 1999-MAR-18 at: http://www.christiandailynews.org/archives/31899/news/
  7. "The Benjamin Nathaniel Smith story," StarNews.com at: http://www.starnews.com/news/special/shootings/ 
  8. "The hate crimes question," 1999-AUG-11, PBS NewsHour on 1999-AUG-11, at: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/law/july-dec99/ 
  9. Sharon Cohen, "Reconstructing the shooting spree," Associated Press, 1999-JUL-6. Online at: http://wire.ap.org/

Site navigation: Home page > Religious conflicts  here

Home page > Christianity > Christian history, beliefs... > Violence > here

Copyright © 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally posted: 1999-SEP-28 
Latest update: 2008-JUL-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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