Suspects sought after Richmond church shooting

February 16, 2010 10:52:48 AM PST
Richmond police now know who opened fire in a church during services Sunday. They are closing in on the shooter and two other suspects.

Deacon Ezekiel Wallace of New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ says the shooting is not going to shut them down. He says not only will the shooting not shut them down, but it will not scare them either. He says they are just upset and that the proof of their determination lies in the fact that parishioners have stepped forward, along with the 14 and 19-year-old victims of the shooting, to help police in this case.

There were more than 100 potential witnesses inside the church when three young black males walked in with black hoods over their heads. Then, one opened fire. Police say the suspects were targeting the two brothers who were sitting in the pews. One was hit in the leg and the other in the shoulder, as parishioners ducked for cover.

Both have been released from the hospital and police say they are cooperating with police.

"I heard pop, pop, pop, and I was on the floor," one woman told ABC7.

Reverend Archie Levias has been the pastor at New Gethsemane for 50 years. During Sunday's morning worship services he saw the young men open fire.

"They don't have no fear of God and no fear of the church, and nobody else. We're trying to do something because something's got to be done. No ifs and ands about it," he said.

Deacon Wallace did not see any of the shooting. But, he feels certain he knows something about the three intruders.

"It's God's house. Any person come into God's house and step over the boundaries, I don't care what church it is, something's wrong with them upstairs," he said. "Yes, it bothers us but we're not scared, not fearful. We're not going to run. We're going to keep doing what we do all the time, pray."

At the same time, some people who were in the church and those who live near it say more needs to be done to bring a semblance of law and order back to Richmond. After last week's killing of a pregnant woman and last fall's gang rape of a Richmond High School student on campus, some are saying police need to change the way they do business.

"I think the police have got to get out of their cars and get on foot and in the neighborhoods to talk to the young people instead of chasing them down all the time with cars," said Frank Robinson. "Get out here and see what's on their minds."

On the other hand, police point right back at the community and say, "Help us help you."

"We cannot do it on our own. We need the community members to come forward and help us with this," said Sgt. Bisa French with the Richmond Police Department. "This is a community effort, not just a police department effort."

"We have talked to numerous witnesses and we're just hearing from people in the street, and coming up with leads from that, and developing suspect information from there," French said. "We do believe an arrest is imminent. You just can't go into a church full of people and start shooting and not expect people to stand up and say something."

French says investigators are not sure of the link between the suspects and the victims.

"We don't know what the motive is or what their connection is with the suspects," she said. "We do know that this appears to be targeted."

There is video of what happened inside New Gesthamane Church Saturday, but police say it is of no value to the investigation. They say if they are going to be getting any more new information, it will have to come from people who were inside the church during the shooting, or people hearing talk in the streets.

City councilman Nat Bates says it is time for Richmond to reinstate checkpoints where cars are stopped and drivers searched for outstanding warrants, weapons and drugs. The controversial practice was disbanded more than one year ago, but Bates will try to get it reinstated.

"When you live in a community like we have in Richmond and you have crime as rampant as it is, the safety of people, in my opinion, far exceeds these privacy issues," he said.

The City Council voted to make them a low priority because too many undocumented citizens were getting snagged. Richmond is a sanctuary city.

"We shouldn't be putting people in this position where they get their cars confiscated, when in reality they're driving fine," said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin who voted against the checkpoints.

"We have these criminal elements who can drive throughout our city and never feel intimidated because they're going to be pulled over and all of a sudden checked for weapons or anything else," said Bates.

McLaughlin says the checkpoints never confiscated guns and led to the arrest of only one parolee.

"To put our police resources into driver's license checkpoints when there is no mandate to do such, really pulls away from our scarce resources," she said.

Bates was the only vote to keep the checkpoints during the last vote, and he is vowing to bring it up again.

"If in fact they feel as though, 'Hey, I'm subject to being stopped,' they probably going to be a lot more cautious, they may not have their weapons in their vehicle," Bates said.

Bates says he will introduce his proposal to his colleagues on the council later this month. The church plans to have a local meeting of pastors on Saturday to try to map out a new strategy for reaching young people and their parents. They hope that sometime in March, over a three-day period, they can knock on 10,000 doors offering social services and food as a way to touch hearts and minds so something like this does not happen again.