MEMPHIS (BP) – A “heavily armed” man was subdued and arrested at the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church Easter Sunday, the congregation’s director of security services told Baptist Press.
Texas-based church security expert Jimmy Meeks told BP the incident serves as an example of “heads-up” response to a potential threat. The man – 31-year-old Marcus Donald – who was taken into custody remains under mental evaluation, according to media reports.
Bellevue pastor Steve Gaines said in a March 28 statement, “Saturday evening more than 75 people gathered to pray over every seat in Bellevue’s Worship Center – for hearts to be changed as thousands entered Bellevue’s campus on Easter.
“Following that time of prayer in the Worship Center, this group also prayed throughout the church campus for God’s hand of protection to be on each person who visited Bellevue. We believe those fervent prayers were answered in light of the events Sunday morning,” said Gaines.
Just before Bellevue’s 11 a.m. worship service began March 27 with an estimated 3,500 attendees, greeter Kathy Jackson noticed a man entering the church with “a pistol sticking out of his pocket,” administrative pastor David Coombs told BP. She told a nearby ministerial staff member, who radioed security.
Andy Willis, Bellevue’s director of security services and a reserve officer with the Memphis Police Department, approached the man, identified himself as a police officer and escorted him into a hallway.
Donald appeared calm when Willis took his pistol – a .40-caliber Beretta according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal – and asked him to put the weapon in his car before entering the service, the officer said. Donald said he had the weapon because “Memphis is dangerous.”
Donald told Willis he had a permit to carry the pistol and did not have any other weapons. Donald then agreed to let Willis put the gun in a backpack Donald was carrying. When Willis opened the backpack, he discovered an automatic rifle and “lots of ammo,” Willis said. The Commercial Appeal reported the rifle was a .300 Blackout assault weapon.
“I, of course, quickly changed mode,” Willis said. “I dropped [the backpack]. I put my hand on my pistol – I didn’t draw it. And I yelled at him, ‘Get down on your knees,’ which he did.”
After another security team member arrived to assist, Donald rolled off his knees and ran toward the auditorium. Willis said he tackled Donald, and security team members handcuffed him and escorted him to an exit to wait for police. Donald was arrested for “emergency commitment” and underwent psychiatric evaluation, according to the Commercial Appeal.