AMBRIDGE BOROUGH, Pa. (KDKA) — A Beaver County man was arrested and is facing charges after allegedly threatening people with a shotgun and trying to enter a predominantly African-American church in Ambridge on Sunday morning.
Court records show Jeffrey Harris, 38, was threatening people with a shotgun and attempting to enter Greater Dominion Church with a firearm on Sunday.
Police reports say Harris was pointing a firearm at two women walking at the intersection of Duss Avenue and Fourth Street at around 9 a.m. One of the women subsequently alerted law enforcement.
"There was a white male, camo vest, red hat, and white t-shirt walking with a possible long gun down Duss Avenue," Ambridge Police Chief John DeLuca said.
Responding officers also noted the pastor and several congregants who worship at Greater Dominion Church were African-American. Police believed Harris was "attempting to enter the church with a long gun to commit a hate crime." Officers also claim Harris was prepared for a standoff with police at his Ambridge home.
With assistance from the Beaver County Regional Police Department, officers located Harris in a business entryway along the 300 block of Merchant Street and arrested him. On Harris' person was a 12-gauge shotgun, and officers found ammunition and what was later confirmed to be crystal meth.
Once officers arrived at Harris' home along Duss Avenue, they reportedly faced difficulty at the entryway, noting some type of slippery substance was smeared across the porch, evident from an empty bottle found nearby.
"They found the steps up to the residence had some type of lubrication on them," DeLuca said.
The house "appeared ready for a standoff," the complaint said. Investigators added, that while searching the home, they discovered a makeshift barrier to the front door, and a hole was drilled into a weapons case, which would have allowed Harris to "fire at the door from a protected position," per the criminal complaint.
A blue notebook was found in the upstairs section of the home containing a "handwritten script" about active shooting.
Officers requested the Allegheny County Police Bomb Squad during the investigation to remove a suspected explosive device from the house, but it was later confirmed by police that there was no explosive device present in the house.
Police reported Harris had been living with a boyfriend at the home, but the man was not found when officers arrived.
"There was no evidence of foul play," the police chief said.
DeLuca told KDKA-TV that he and his department believe the incident was not racially motivated but brought on through a combination of Harris' alleged use of methamphetamine and his mental state at the time of the incident.
"How serious was it to the local police department," asked pastor Kenneth Crumb, who holds service at the Greater Dominion Church. "They never said one word to us, even when we got out of church, out of service. There's cars all over the place out here. Police cars, bomb squad, and no one said anything to us."
The church was informed after Harris was arrested that there were no prank calls or prior acts that confirmed Harris was going to commit an act of violence.
Once he became lucid, police said, Harris made no indication that he was going to commit a violent hate crime against anyone.
Harris faces nearly 10 charges, including attempted burglary, aggravated assault and terroristic threats.
Harris' bond was set at $975,000. A preliminary hearing is set for Sept. 5.
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