'God stepped in': Pastor disarms gunman in church
During the service held late Thursday evening, a man holding a semi-automatic assault rifle in one hand and a loaded ammunition clip in the other walked into Heal The Land Outreach Ministries in Fayetteville, North Carolina, WNCN reported.
Upon spotting the weapon, pastor Larry Wright interrupted his sermon and walked toward the man as the 60 or so members of the congregation began to panic, some heading for the exits.
"I'm the first person to see him and when I saw him, I thought it was a dummy gun, but then I saw the bullet clip in his hand and the bullets were shining," Wright told CNN.
Approaching the man, who appeared to be in his 20s, the pastor asked, "Can I help you?" the Fayetteville Observer reported.
"If he was belligerent, I was going to tackle him," said Wright, who is 57, 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds.
The man was calm, though, eventually allowing the pastor to take his firearm.
"He said, ‘I came here with some terrible things on my mind, I was going to do some bad things,'” Wright told WNCN.
The man, who has not been identified by police, told Wright he had been hurt by the church in the past. In addition, he was recently released from prison, a military veteran and a new father.
Wright gave the weapon to a deacon, patted the man down, and called on other deacons to embrace the man to make him feel welcome.
“When I told the congregation, it's OK, he wants prayer and I began to pray for him, and the power of God hit and he fell to his knees and began to cry and weep and he had his face on the ground,” Wright told WNCN.
The man was invited to sit in the front pew of church to listen to the rest of Wright's sermon.
"I finished the message, I did the altar call and he stood right up, came up to the altar, and gave his life to Christ," Wright said. "I came down and prayed with him and we embraced. It was like a father embracing a son."
Police were alerted to the scene and were waiting in the vestibule, as Wright requested they remain outside.
“I didn’t want to interrupt the service,” Wright said.
Following his embrace of Wright, the man asked to speak to the churchgoers. He apologized for his actions, saying he had intended to do something terrible, but God had spoken to him.
“God stepped in and he moved on that young man’s heart and instead of him shooting and killing a whole lot of people, God touched his heart,” Wright said.
The man was led away by police following the service. Fayetteville police spokesman Lieutenant David McLaurin said the man requested treatment and was taken to a nearby medical facility.
A deacon at the church said Wright was discussing gun violence when the man walked in that evening.
"I think that night the spirit of God was definitely in the place," Sylvester Loving told the Observer.
North Carolina does not have a state law restricting transfer or possession of assault weapons. To own a rifle or shotgun in the state, one does not have to acquire a permit to purchase or carry, nor be licensed. Registration of the firearm is also not necessary.
With almost 30 years of experience as a pastor, Wright is also a Fayetteville city councilman and a retired Army sergeant. Fort Bragg, a major US Army base that is home to the 82nd Airborne Division, is located just outside Fayetteville.