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Shooter Railed Against Liberals, Gays

The man accused of a gun attack at a church that killed two people and seriously wounded five others apparently selected the congregation because of its liberal social stance, according to the Knoxville, Tenn., police chief.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, is in custody and charged with first-degree murder in the shootings. He is being held on $1 million bond.

Officials said five people remain in the hospital - four in critical condition, one serious.

At a press conference Monday morning Police Chief Sterling Owen IV said a 4-page letter discovered in Adkisson's car following the attack at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Sunday morning revealed his frustration over not being able to find work, with his anger targeting gays and what he called "the liberal movement."

"He seemed obsessed, saying he hated the 'liberal movement,'" Owen said. "He did express frustration that the 'liberal movement' was getting more jobs. He felt he was being kept out of the loop because of his age and because he was not liberal."

When asked if the letter contained vulgarities or profanities, Owen said, "It wasn't very complimentary."

The letter, which was not addressed to anyone specifically but was signed by Adkisson, did indicate that he specifically targeted the church. "It appears that church had received some publicity in the recent past regarding its liberal stance on things," said Owen.

The church is known for advocating women's and gay rights and founding an American Civil Liberties Union chapter.

He also said there was no indication that Adkisson was targeting the children.

"He intended to take a lot of casualties - he had at least 76 rounds on him," Owen said.

He said the letter indicated Adkisson did not expect to leave the church alive.

The 12-gauge number 4 semi-automatic shotgun was purchased a month ago. Adkisson had no other weapons on him when he was apprehended but police recovered a .38 handgun at his house.

It was revealed that Adkisson had been a member of the 101st Airborne and according to his resume had worked at a variety of places around the country. He holds an associate's degree in mechanical engineering but was last actively employed in the Knoxville area in 2006.

His frustration at not being able to find work was apparently exacerbated by a letter police say Adkisson recently received from the state saying he was losing some or all of his food stamp benefits. "That gave him even greater concern," Owen said.

He has no next of kin and no family, according to his statement to police.

Police said they did not know when the letter would be released as it is evidence. None of the several videos taken in the sanctuary will be released.

"It's important for us to ensure that the evidence is treated properly, legally, and that we don't run into any evidentiary problems."

Police have been joined by the FBI in investigating if this is a hate crime because of the church community's work on social issues.

One neighbor reported that Adkisson had problems with Christianity.

More than 200 people were in attendance of a children's play Sunday morning when Adkisson walked in with a 12-gauge shotgun and a bag full of ammunition and began firing.

"It was shock and you're trying to have it make sense in the context of where you're at - you're in church," said Jamie Parkey.

Church member Marty Murphy told The Knoxville News Sentinel that she was about 30 to 40 feet from the shooter when the rampage began.

She said church members dove under church pews and others ran out the sanctuary.

Murphy told the newspaper some of the children were close to the shooter when the attack began.

"One little girl had blood all over her," she said. "She was just hysterical. I don't know how that girl is going to sleep tonight."

"Right after the play had started, we were sitting there and heard a loud explosion," Terry Uselton told CBS' The Early Show. "Couldn't figure out what was going on; we thought maybe it was something with the lighting or something went wrong. Heard a second explosion. And then I turned around to look and saw a man standing in the doorway with a gun. And so I got up from my seat and started toward him."

Uselton helped tackle Adkisson to the ground.

He said, being a teacher, he has thought through scenarios of how to protect children in the event of a school shooting. "This is one of those cases," Uselton said. "That was my thought: 'Somebody's got to stop this guy.'"

Another witness told the newspaper that the man killed was a hero.

"Greg McKendry stood in the front of the gunman and took the blast to protect the rest of us," Barbara Kemper said.

McKendry's foster son Taylor Bessette watched it happen.

"He stood in front of the bullets between the child and the gunman and actually took the bullets to save the child," said Bessette.

When it was over, eight people were injured and 60-year-old McKendry lay dead. Sixty-one-year-old Linda Kraeger, another of the victims, died in the hospital last night. No children were physically injured.

Afterwards, Uselton said, his three grandchildren had many questions which he struggled to answer. "We talked a lot about it after it happened. We were very forthcoming. And these are just things you can't explain. But we talked about it. And I think that was very helpful to them."

Uselton, who has attended the church for 24 years, knew McKendry.

"Our hearts go out to Greg and Linda and their families and the tragic loss," he said. "Greg was a wonderful guy, wonderful person in the church. He was just a great person. And his loss will be felt for a long time. We really are going to miss him."

Police have no motive yet for the crime.

One witness said the shooter started by shouting "hateful words."

Police took statements from witnesses and collected video cameras from church members who recorded the performance.

According to the church's Web site, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is a community that meets to worship and work together for social change, including desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women's rights and gay rights. The congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the ACLU.

Police have been joined by the FBI in investigating if this is a hate crime because of the church community's work on social issues.

Authorities searched Adkisson's duplex in the Knoxville suburb of Powell on Sunday night but refused to provide any details about what they found. A bomb squad was called in as a precaution.

"In a situation like this, we're not taking any chances," police Lt. Doug Stiles said.

Neighbors described Adkisson as a friendly man who would often work on his motorcycle outside and go on long weekend rides.

Melissa Coker, 44, said Adkisson had lived next door since she moved in four or five years ago. She said he had been a truck driver, but she didn't believe he had steady work in the last six months or so.

"He's just a really, really nice guy," Coker said.

Karen Massey, who lived two houses from Adkisson's home, told the Knoxville News Sentinel of a lengthy conversation she had with Adkisson a couple years ago after she told him her daughter had just graduated from Johnson Bible College. She said she ended up having to explain to him that she was a Christian.

"He almost turned angry," she told the newspaper. "He seemed to get angry at that. He said that everything in the Bible contradicts itself if you read it."

Massey said Adkisson talked frequently about his parents, who "made him go to church all his life. ... He acted like he was forced to do that."

Churchmembers tried to begin making sense of what happened with special evening services at a nearby church.

"There was a lot of sharing, a lot of caring, a lot of reaching out, especially to the people who were in the service this morning who were there firsthand to see it," said Steve Kopp.

The church's minister was on vacation in western North Carolina at the time of the shooting but returned Sunday afternoon.

"We've been touched by a horrible act of violence," the Rev. Chris Buice said in a statement outside the church. "We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers."

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