A man armed with a shotgun was prevented entry into a predominantly Black Pennsylvania church, possibly thwarting a racially motivated mass shooting.
The 38-year-old white male, Jeffrey Harris, had failed to gain permission to enter the Greater Dominion Church in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, Aug. 27. In response, Harris raised his loaded 12-gauge shotgun at two women standing at an intersection on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Fourth Street near the location of the church.
Police officers received a criminal complaint at 9 a.m. that morning about the incident between the two women and Harris and went to investigate.
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The officers, in an interview with church Bishop Kenneth Crumb, were told that Harris was denied entry to the church because the service was too packed. Crumb told the officers that had he just come an hour later, he would’ve been allowed entry and was grateful this did not happen.
“When you just think about how close we came to having the same kind of horrific situation that we had at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, it’s like the Grace of God. Thank God for his grace, for his covering over us, because this could have been a total different way,” Crumb told WTAE-TV.
“There is a whole lot of mass murders going on, there is shootings, particularly in the African-American community, people targeting our communities,” Crumb said.
Harris would eventually be confronted by Ambridge police and would point his gun at the officer on the scene. The officer called for backup and, with some assistance, managed to arrest Harris, who now faces several charges, such as aggravated assault and terrorist threats.
Crystal meth was discovered on Harris’ body after the arrest.
Police later searched Harris’ home and discovered that his porch was covered in slippery lubricant.
Officers even found a weapons case with a drilled hole “creating a tactical position from which the occupant would fire at the front door from a protected position,” according to the report.
A bomb squad was called to Harris’ home to deactivate a device suspected to be an explosive. Later, officers found even more crystal meth, a cache of weapons and a handwritten note detailing plans for a mass shooting.
Harris’ failed attempt was less than 24 hours after a white man in tactical gear killed three Black people inside and outside a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, before turning one of his guns on himself.
In Harris’ case, the bond was set at $975,000. A preliminary hearing is set for Sept. 5.