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At church, hate kindles heroism

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, police said Monday.

Knoxville police Chief Sterling Owen IV said a signed, four-page letter written by Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was found in his small sport utility vehicle in the church parking lot after gunfire interrupted a children's performance Sunday morning. Seven people also were injured.

"It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that and his stated hatred of the liberal movement," Owen said.

No children were hurt, but five people remained in serious or critical condition Monday. A burly usher who died, Greg McKendry, 60, was hailed as a hero for shielding others from gunfire at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

"Just make sure you let people know that Greg McKendry is a hero, an absolute hero," said Taylor Bessette, 16, who had been taken into foster care by Greg and Barbara McKendry just a few months ago.

A second victim who died hours later was identified as Linda Kraeger, 61.

Adkisson, who is charged with one count of first-degree murder, remained jailed Monday under "close observation" on $1-million bail, authorities said. More charges were expected.

He was described by family members and longtime acquaintances as a troubled loner who hates "blacks, gays and anyone different from him."

But those who know him also depicted him as a man with a "heart of gold" who, when not consumed by anger, was happy to help his neighbors out.

Adkisson had a personal connection to the church. His ex-wife, Liza Alexander, of Powell, Tenn., was a former longtime congregant at the church, which embraces gay rights and other liberal views.

The Adkissons' marriage disintegrated some eight years ago after Adkisson had been drinking heavily and put a gun to Alexander's head, said Carol Smallwood of Alice, Texas.

"He always had the attitude the government was trying to get him," Smallwood said. "He disliked blacks, gays, anyone who was a different color or just different from him. He's a very intelligent man, but he couldn't get in the mainstream and hold a job. He's not a beast. He needed help a long time ago and never got it."

The Unitarian-Universalist church promotes progressive social work, including advocacy of women and gay rights. The Knoxville congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site.

Church member Amy Broyles reflected on the irony of the tragedy. "This was a man who was hurt in the world and feeling that nothing was going his way," she said. "He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compassionately and be the ones to help someone in that situation."

Information from Scripps Howard News service was used in this report.

At church, hate kindles heroism 07/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 6:17pm]

    

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