NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The man accused of fatally shooting a woman and wounding six other people at a Tennessee church last month told police he heard voices and had visions, including an image of that particular church, a detective testified in court Monday.
Nashville Police Detective Steve Jolley said 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson wouldn’t say much else about his vision of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, when pressed by police during an interview.
“He was just very vague and he didn’t really elaborate on anything,” Jolley said at a hearing in Davidson County General Sessions Court.
A judge sent Samson’s case to a grand jury Monday. Samson didn’t appear for the hearing.
Jolley also acknowledged that a note found in Samson’s car made reference to a white supremacist’s 2015 massacre at a South Carolina black church, a detail that The Associated Press first reported.
The note found on the dashboard read something like, “Dylann Roof was less than nothing,” Jolley said.
“It was really kind of just vague,” Jolley said.
All of the victims in Nashville were white, but it’s still not clear whether Samson, who is black, specifically targeted them based on their race.
Jolley said Samson downplayed the role of race to detectives.
“I asked him specifically and he said that he didn’t give much thought to race,” Jolley said. “I think he also said the same thing about religion. So he didn’t indicate to me any particular thing for motivation.”
Samson said nothing in the interview about the fact that he had attended the church previously, only commenting that he might have delivered pizzas there, Jolley said. Samson also told Jolley he was just tired of driving on the day of the shooting, the detective added.
Though he was otherwise mostly stoic, Samson broke down in tears at one point when another detective asked him about hurt and pain, according to the detective.
Samson said he remembered shooting outside the church, but didn’t recall shooting inside and wasn’t shooting at anyone in particular, Jolley said.
Samson is charged with murder in the Sept. 24 attack at the Nashville church. The Sunday shooting rampage killed 38-year-old Melanie L. Crow of Smyrna, Tennessee.
The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Nashville quickly opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
The judge also heard testimony from Robert Caleb Engle, the 22-year-old church member hailed as a hero in the attack.
During the shooting, Engle said he twice confronted the gunman, who was wearing a tactical vest and a motorcycle-style mask with a clown smile on it. Engle said he grabbed the shooter’s arm, at which point he pistol whipped the churchgoer three times in the head.
Later, Engle said he stood up in front of the shooter, whose gun then turned to target him. Engle said he pushed the gun back onto the shooter and a shot fired, striking the gunman and sending him to the ground.
Engle said his father kicked the gun away, stood on the shooter’s hand and told Engle to go get his gun out of his truck.
Engle came back with his weapon, put his foot on the shooter’s back and stood guard until first responders arrived.
According to police records, Samson struggled to hold a job and had a volatile relationship with a woman that twice involved police this year, and also had expressed suicidal thoughts in June.
Authorities have said Samson came to the United States from Sudan as a child in 1996 and is a U.S. citizen.
Additional charges are expected. Samson is being held without bond.