FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) — Sunday was absolutely a day of celebration at Heal The Land Outreach Ministries – just days after the pastor of the church managed to defuse a situation involving a gunman at the church.
It was a very frightening experience as a man walked in carrying the rifle in one hand, pointed up, and an ammo clip in the other hand.
The pastor and church members say what could have been a horrific tragedy on New Year’s Eve turned into another reason to give thanks.
Around 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Pastor Larry Wright, who is also a Fayetteville city councilman, was in the middle of sharing his New Year’s Eve sermon with about 60 people in the church.
He soon noticed a man enter the sanctuary, holding a rifle in the air. Wright says he immediately left the podium and confronted the stranger.
“He said, ‘I came here with some terrible things on my mind, I was going to do some bad things,’” Wright told WNCN.
Wright says you could feel the panic in the air.
Church members started screaming, others were running straight for the door.
“I was very scared I had my granddaughter with me and I just automatically grabbed her and braced her head so if any bullets would fly, I’d get the bullets and not my granddaughter,” said Janice Johnson, a church member.
Wright says the man calmly shared he’d been previously hurt by the church, recently released from prison and was also a veteran.
He then asked for prayers.
Wright took the gun away and called for other men to come and embrace the suspect.
“When I told the congregation, ‘It’s OK, he wants prayer,’ and I began to pray for him. And the power of God hit and he fell to his knees and began to cry and weep and he had his face on the ground,” Wright said.
After praying, the man sat down and listened to the rest of Wright’s sermon.
Wright says the man then apologized to the congregation and professed his faith in Christ.
“God stepped in and he moved on that young man’s heart and instead of him shooting and killing a whole lot of people, God touched his heart,” Pastor Wright said.
After the service, the man was led away by police.
Police say the man involved in this incident has not been charged. He’s now receiving treatment at a local facility.