A 22-year-old church usher is being celebrated as a hero in the wake of Sunday’s shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee.
CBS News reports that Robert Caleb Engle confronted suspect Emanuel Kidega Samson, 25, who shot and killed Melanie Smith, 39, in the parking lot before walking into the church to continue his shooting rampage. Samson, wearing a mask and carrying two pistols, allegedly shot and injured six additional victims inside the church before being Engle tackled him in the aisle.
During the violent struggle, Samson reportedly “pistol-whipped” Engle before he was accidentally shot by his own gun and fell to the ground.
The Tennessean reports that Engle suffered multiple injuries, including a dislocated shoulder, a broken nose and a laceration on his forehead.
While the suspect lay injured on the ground, Engle ran out to the church parking lot to retrieve his gun, then stood guard over Samson until police arrived to take the suspect into custody.
According to news reports, Engle has a license to carry a concealed firearm.
Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metro Nashville Police Department, praised Engel’s actions in a statement.
“Mr. Engle saved countless lives here today. He is, at the end of the day, the hero in this because we think this could’ve been much worse in terms of death.”
According to Aaron, there were 42 people at the church during the time of the shooting. Witness Minerva Rosa told NBC News that many of the congregation members are “senior people.”
Witness and fellow congregant Blake Langford told CBS News that Engle’s actions Sunday seemed in line with his character.
“He’s 6 foot 5, a really big guy, but a gentle giant,” Langford said. “He’s always been that kind of person to put others before himself.”
Engle’s grandmother, Rheta Engle, 69, echoed the sentiment, telling the Tennessean “that’s like him.”
“He’s just someone who cares about a lot of people,” she said. “He has all their feelings at heart. It would make any parent, grandparent very, very proud of him.”
In a statement released Sunday evening and reported by local ABC affiliate WKRN, Engle deflected the praise.
“I do not want to be labeled a hero. The real heroes are the police, first responders and medical staff and doctors who have helped me and everyone affected.”
Engle asked the public to pray for the victims, as well as the shooter himself and his loved ones, because “they are hurting as well.”
Feature photo: Facebook