This past weekend marked four years since the 2017 mass shooting at a church in Tennessee that resulted in one death and eight injuries. On Sunday, September 24, 2017 at approximately 11:15am, then 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson opened fire at a church service at the Burnette Chapel Church in Antioch, TN. Samson, a Rutherford County resident, killed one person and wounded eight others, before accidentally shooting himself after he was confronted by 22-year-old Robert Engle, an usher at the congregation. After waiting in the church parking lot for approximately 20 minutes, Samson, wearing a neoprene ski mask, shot and killed 39-year-old Melanie Crow Smith, as the service ended shortly after 11:00am local time. Samson then left his car, a blue Nissan Xterra still running, and entered the rear doors of the church and, according to police, began “indiscriminately” shooting. Nashville Police said that Samson fired 12 rounds from a .40 caliber handgun and reloaded the weapon once. Approximately 42 people were inside the church at the time of the shooting, including a Sunday school class. Samson, who came to the U.S. from Sudan in 1996 and was a legal U.S. resident but not a U.S. citizen, had been a member of the church for several years prior to the attack. It was later revealed that Samson conducted the attack as revenge for the 2015 Charleston, SC church shooting.
The anniversary of the Antioch, TN church shooting further highlights how places of worship have become increasingly targeted in recent years, both within the U.S. and across the globe. Additionally, the frequency of active shooter incidents has increased in recent years, and these incidents have affected numerous places where citizens congregate, such as schools, workplaces, places of worship, shopping malls, restaurants and movie theaters. Religious facilities are well known to be soft targets due to their common premise on the idea of being open to the public and easily accessible. The determination of choosing a religious facility to conduct an attack is a common tactic that is often encouraged as an ideal target in terrorism propaganda. Law enforcement officials have warned that mass shootings in places of worship have become more frequent, significantly rising in the mid-2000s, with the number of shootings motivated by religious hate increasing most dramatically in the last five years. The openness fostered by these facilities makes protecting them difficult and many facilities have since turned to security consultants for help. According to federal law enforcement officials, some techniques that these facilities can employ to improve their security measures are to organize security committees, install surveillance cameras, hire armed security guards, establish plans for emergency evacuation, and install an internal communication system to alert congress members to significant incidents, as well as external communication that notifies first responders. While terrorist attacks on houses of worship garner the most attention, the majority of attacks that target religious institutions stem from robberies, personal disputes or domestic violence.