A North Carolina man who walked into a church last week armed with a rifle, returned to the scene Sunday.
But this time, it was to apologize to pastor Larry Wright whose quick thinking and compassion averted what could have been a tragic scene at the Fayetteville church on New Year’s Eve.
As local TV station WRAL interviewed Wright Sunday, the man returned to the church while cameras were rolling. Still wearing a hospital armband, the man, who asked not to be identified, made the church his first stop after being released from the medical facility where he was taken by police.
Cameras caught the exchange between the pastor and the gunman, who said he had been dealing with multiple challenges. A veteran with PTSD, the man said he was unable to afford his medication, his wife had been diagnosed with a debilitating disease and the couple was struggling financially. The man, a convicted felon, said he was given the gun and he thought he could dispose of it at the church without getting into trouble, according to WRAL.
Wright, a city councilman and retired Army sergeant first class, had been speaking to the congregation about senseless violence when the man entered Heal the Land Outreach Ministries, startling the 60 or so people in attendance.
Wright noticed he had a semi-automatic assault rifle in one hand and a loaded ammunition clip in the other, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
Wright stepped off the platform and approached the man, who continued to walk toward the front of the church with the rifle pointed in the air.
“Can I help you,” the 57-year-old pastor calmly asked the man.
“If he was belligerent, I was going to tackle him,” said the 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, retired soldier according to the Observer. Instead, the man asked for prayer.
Wright, a second-term city councilman and pastor for 16 years, took the rifle away and handed it to a deacon. He patted the man down and had four other deacons embrace the man in an effort to make him feel welcome. He then asked the man to sit in the front pew.
Though someone had called 911, the police were asked to wait outside so Wright could finish the service. “I didn’t want to interrupt the service,” Wright said, adding that the gunman came up at the end during the altar call and asked for salvation.
Taylor Morgan, a church member, told WRAL that her first thought when she saw the gunman was of the Charleston church shooting. “I didn’t see anything but this big rifle,” she said.
The Fayetteville Police Department took the unidentified man to a medical center as a voluntary commitment, reported the Observer.
During an interview with WRAL, the pastor noticed the man at the door and asked that he be allowed to come in to the church. Wright embraced the man,who was not facing charges, and spoke to him about how he could join the church and be part of its outreach work.
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