COLLEGE PARK, Ga. – A volunteer leading a prayer service at a Georgia megachurch was shot and killed Wednesday morning, and a former church employee was taken into custody at a shopping mall hours later.
The shots were fired just before 10 a.m. inside a chapel on the campus of World Changers Church International, which says it has 30,000 followers in College Park, a suburb south of Atlanta.
The church's well-known founder and leader, the Rev. Creflo Dollar, was not at the church at the time of the shooting, Fulton County Police Cpl. Kay Lester said.
Authorities identified the suspect as Floyd Palmer, a former facilities maintenance employee at the church in his early 50s. Lester said Palmer had resigned from his job at the church in August for "personal reasons."
Court records show a man named Floyd Lester Palmer with the same date of birth was charged in Baltimore in 2001 with attempted murder, assault and handgun charges.
He was committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2004 after pleading not criminally responsible to lesser charges. Records show he was released the following year, subject to conditions that were to remain in effect for five years.
Palmer was taken into custody without incident a few hours later at an upscale mall in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood, Lester said. Police spotted his car in the parking lot. They didn't recover a weapon.
He was charged with homicide and possession of firearms in commission of a homicide, with additional charges pending.
About 20 to 25 people were gathered in the chapel Wednesday morning, when authorities say the gunman walked in and began shooting. No other people were wounded and the gunman fled in a black Subaru station wagon with tinted windows.
"He walked in calmly, opened fire, and left as calmly," Lester said.
The victim was identified as Gregory McDowell, a 39-year-old church volunteer who was leading a prayer at the time. Investigators were working to determine if Palmer and McDowell knew each other.
"We do not know if the victim was targeted," Lester said. "We are looking into that as he was the only person that was shot."
Ken Terry, a pastor at the church who is acting as a spokesman for McDowell's family, said the church family was distraught and trying to comfort McDowell's family.
"He would be considered a model dad," Terry told reporters. "To have this happen is just devastating."
Although the campus has security officers and surveillance cameras, Lester said the suspect was known to some of those at Wednesday's morning service, so his presence wouldn't have been unusual.
A few schools in the surrounding neighborhood were locked down temporarily immediately after the shooting. Afternoon services at the church were canceled, Lester said.
The 50-year-old Dollar is one of the most well-known African-American preachers based around Atlanta, with a ministry of satellite churches across the U.S.
On the church grounds, yellow tape surrounded an older brick building that houses the chapel, which is about 50 yards away from the campus's massive World Dome. Police were not letting people onto the campus and were gradually letting members of the ministry out.
A security guard at the administrative office declined to comment as did several church employees.
Several church members walked over to the scene after hearing about the shooting.
"Why would anyone want to hurt the church?" said Adolph Hanley, 66, of College Park, who has attended the church for two years. "That's the devil's work."
"It doesn't surprise me," Hanley said. "People don't want the real Word."
Albert Henry, 55, of Riverdale, said his 5-year-old son was in day care near the chapel when the shooting took place. He said staffers called and told him to pick up the child.
"I can't believe someone just did it in the House of the Lord," said Henry, as his boy sat in the back seat.
Linda Pritchett, 43, a church member for 10 years, said the shooting didn't make her feel less secure attending services. She said people cannot give in to fear. But she said she was sad for the victim.
"When something happens to one of us, it hurts all of us," she said.