8 People Killed at Church
No one expects to get murdered. But there are places we go where we feel safe. We avoid creepy hotels, deserted woods, dark alleys and other places featured in horror films. Every week, many Americans attend church. They see church as a place for community and worship, not of death. For these eight unlucky people, their churches became crime scenes. Some were victims of random acts of violence. Others were victims of murderous political plots. What they have in common is that they all died in a place where violence is rare, a place assumed to be safe. They were killed at church.
1. Marquel Peters
2010 had just begun. 4-year-old Marquel Peters was sitting with his parents during a New Year’s Eve service at the Church of God Prophecy in Decatur, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, when tragedy struck. Church-goers heard a loud pop and Marquel fell to the floor crying. He was still crying when emergency crews arrived at the church. No one knew what happened. A x-ray at the hospital revealed the source of his injury- Marquel had a bullet in his head. But it was too late for Marquel, who died a few hours after arriving at the hospital. Police discovered that the bullet entered the church through the roof. Someone had shot into the air to celebrate the New Year. One of those shots fell through the church’s roof and killed Marquel. In 2011, the Georgia legislature passed “Marquel’s Law,” which raises awareness about the dangers of celebratory gunfire.
2. Richard Riddle
It was Easter Sunday. Like most Sundays, 52-year-old Richard Riddle went to church with his family. He was gunned down outside the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in Ashtabula, Ohio. Services had just ended when his son, Reshad Riddle, shot him once in the chest with a handgun. The shot was fatal. After he shot his father, Reshad entered the church he attended as a child. He yelled about Allah and the will of God before being apprehended by the police. Reshad entered an Alford Plea for the shooting of his father. An Alford Plea is also called a “best-interests plea.” A defendant avoids trial by accepting the consequences of a guilty verdict without admitting guilt.
3. Dana Marie Weaver
A 16-year-old high school student and Eagle Scout murdered Dana Marie Weaver in the kitchen of Christ Episcopal Church in Roanoke, Virginia. Dana was also 16 at the time of her death and attended the local high school with her attacker, Lee Scott Dana went to church that evening to attend a young people’s group, unaware that the group was on a picnic. Instead, she met her untimely death in the kitchen of the church. Scott beat her with soda bottles and left her body to be discovered by the church janitor. Dana Marie Weaver was at the church to attend choir practice. Scott claimed he suffered from “partial amnesia” when he beat his classmate to death and couldn’t remember what happened. It wasn’t until he took truth serum, that he remembered and admitted the details of the murder. Scott was sentenced to 99 years.
After Tiller Movie Trailer (2013)
4. Dr. George Tiller
Dr. George Tiller probably didn't feel safe many places. In 1986, his clinic was bombed. In 1993, he was shot in both arms. Dr. Tiller wore a bulletproof vest, but that didn't stop his killer. At the time of his death in 2009, he was one of a handful doctors who performed late-term abortions in the United States. On the fateful Sunday, he served as an usher. His wife was about to sing in the choir. Scott Roeder entered the Wichita church and shot Dr. Tiller in the head. During his trial, Roeder’s attorneys attempted to introduce a “necessity defense,” claiming that Roeder had to protect the unborn children. The judge did not let Roeder’s team present this defense to the jury. Roeder received the maximum sentence allowed under Kansas law and must serve 50 years before he is eligible for parole.
Dr. Tiller’s life and death inspired the 2013 documentary, After Tiller. The film tells about the lives of the four remaining American doctors who perform late-term abortions.
5. Reverend Eric Freed
Early morning on New Year’s Day 2014, Gary Lee Bullock was released from Humboldt County jail. About an hour later, security cameras captured video of Bullock at the St. Bernard Parish Church rectory. When Reverend Eric Freed didn’t show up to deliver the 9:00 am mass on New Year’s Day, church members went to look for him. They found his body in his room, badly beaten and wrapped in blankets. Freed suffered a painful death, illustrated by a lengthy list of injuries, including skull and rib fractures, a broken spine, and a damaged trachea. A forensic pathologist reported that Bullock also used a broken vase to suffocate Freed. Investigators think he shoved the vase down Freed’s throat, cutting off his air supply. Police officers arrested Bullock on January 2, but did not take him to jail. Because his hands were so swollen, he first had to go to a hospital for x-rays. Bullock’s trial is scheduled for November.
6. Reverend David Dingwall
Reverend David Dingwall was born in Canada and moved to the eastern coast of the United States in 2003. In 2005, he became the rector of St. Paul's By-The-Sea Episcopal Church. Dingwall was at work the day he died. He worked in an old rectory that housed church offices and a food bank in the basement. When firefighters found him on the second floor of the old rectory, he was unconscious. He later died at Atlantic General Hospital. The cause of the fire? 56-year-old John Sterner was on fire when he ran into the basement. Flames quickly spread from his clothes to the building. Police believe Sterner poured gasoline on himself, lit himself on fire, and ran into the church building. What they don’t know is why he did it. After investigators found a video of Sterner buying gasoline minutes before the fire, Reverend Dingwall’s death was ruled a homicide.
7. Pastor Ronald J. Harris Sr.
65 people were singing “Our Good is a Great God” when Woodrow Karey, Jr. entered the Tabernacle of Praise Worship Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He walked down the middle aisle of the sanctuary and fatally shot Pastor Ronald J. Harris, Sr. Karey ran and threw two guns into the nearby woods before calling 9-1-1 to turn himself in. Two days before the shooting, Karey accused Harris of raping his wife. In response to a civil suit filed by Harris’s widow, Karey’s attorneys released text messages from Harris to Karey’s wife that called her a “cross eye [sic] whore.” The response also alleges that Harris held her at gunpoint and forced her to have sex. Karey was initially indicted on manslaughter, but the case went back to a grand jury when the state discovered new evidence. The second grand jury indicted Karey for second-degree murder. A second-degree murder conviction has a mandatory life sentence in Louisiana. Karey is waiting for trial in the Calcasieu Parish Jail.
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8. Bishop Clay Sannar
In 2004, Kenneth James Ward officially quit the Mormon church. In 2010, he walked into The Church of Latter-Day Saints in Visalia, California, and asked for the leader of the Church. Then, he allegedly shot 40-year-old Bishop Clay Sannar twice- once in the foot and once in the fact. Bishop Sannar was in his office when he was fatally shot, leaving behind his wife and six young children. After the shooting, Ward called the police and identified himself as the shooter. He disclosed his location and told them to “Be prepared to throw down in mortal combat.” When the police went to apprehend the suspected shooter, Ward started a gunfight that ended in his death. Ward’s family says they are sorry for what happened and claim that Ward, a Persian Gulf War veteran, was mentally ill.