Church shooter was targeting ‘liberals as well as gays’

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The man who shot and killed two people and injured seven others (five of them remain critical) at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church selected the church because of its liberal stance and support of the gay community.

Knoxville Police Chief Sterling P. Owen IV said this morning in a press conference, when asked by a reporter, that the shooter was targeting “liberals and gays.”

Owen said a four-page letter written by Jim David Adkisson, 58, stated that his reasons for the attack were for “lack of being able to obtain a job and frustration over that and his stated hatred for the liberal movement,” Owen said. “We recovered a four-page letter in which he describes his feelings and the reasons he claims he committed these offenses.”

A reporter asked the police chief “does that mean he was talking about targeting gays in particular or just liberals in general?”

“Both,” the chief responded. “Liberals in general, as well as gays.”

Owen said his department was investigating the shooting as a hate crime and that federal authorities had been asked to assist.

Knoxville Police have charged Adkisson with one count of first degree murder and are holding him on a one million dollar bond. Police said 76 shotgun shells and a 12-guage shotgun were found at the church, with three rounds fired. The gun was purchased from a local pawn shop.

Owen said the shooter expected to be killed by the responding police.

“It appears that church had received some publicity regarding its liberal stance,” the chief told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The church is home to Knoxville’s Spectrum Café, which is a social gathering place for Knoxville area high school youth who “support the principles of diversity, tolerance, and the worth and dignity of every human being.”  Teens who come to Spectrum respect each others’ ideas, religious views, race, sexual orientations, abilities, and ethnic backgrounds. The group welcomes “self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or who are questioning their sexual or gender identity.” 

The Knoxville Monday Gay Men’s Group meets at the church each Monday from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The local PFLAG group has also had meetings at the church.

The church recently put up a “gays welcome” sign as part of its long-range planning to conduct more outreach and welcome the GLBT community.

At least one Tennessee equality leader said the incident showed the need for stronger laws in Tennessee against hate crimes.

“Our hate crimes and anti-violence projects are following this story and our thoughts are with the victims and their families,” said Christopher Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project. “The incident demonstrates the need for more education and tougher laws about hate crimes in Tennessee.”