A Chattanooga, Tenn., church became the site of gang-related gunfire on Christmas Eve when nine victims were shot in front of the parish’s youth outreach facility, Club Fathom.
An alleged gang fight between nationwide gangs the Bloods and the Crips broke out as roughly 400 teens exited Club Fathom’s Christmas Eve party.
Although the club is affiliated with neighboring Mosaic Church and is listed as a teen outreach facility on the Mosaic Church's website, it advertised its Christmas Eve party online as a “no I.D.” event, and one advertisement showed a busty woman in lingerie and a red Santa hat, according to MSNBC.
Srgt. Jerri Weary told MSNBC that five juveniles and four adults were shot at the Christmas Eve incident.
One shooting victim, 19-year-old Keontae Howard, argues that the shooting on Christmas Eve was not gang related, because most of the bystanders were not gang affiliated.
"Me and my friends who got hit, it didn't have nothing to do with no gang stuff," Howard told local news station WRCB-TV.
"I don't think they'll be able to blame it on gangs, because most people who were hit were innocent by-standers," Howard added.
According to News Channel 9, the mayor and other city officials plan to shut the Christian club down as it has reportedly attracted gang violence in the past, including stabbings and shootings.
Pastor Tim Reid, owner of the club, argues that those shot at Club Fathom were victims of gang members, who had been waiting outside the club to ambush party-goers.
"Our youth have chosen to walk way from the gang lifestyle, but they remain in harm's way because of the violence of Chattanooga's current gang members. Again, the shootings were not two rival gangs; rather, a violent Chattanooga gang ambushed our church's non-violent 'GANG' (gathering a new generation)," Reid told Channel News 9.
Mayor Ron Littlefield argues that officials can prove Blood and Crip gang members were in attendance at the party, held in what he calls a "low grade night club that's poorly managed and violence prone.”
The Rev. Rick Bueno, president and founder of Frontline Street Intervention, told The Christian Post that it can be very difficult for teens to leave gangs, as often times they suffer repercussions.
Frontline Street Intervention is a nonprofit organization in Illinois dedicated to helping at-risk youth turn away from destructive behavior, such as gangs and drugs.
"One of the rules in most gangs is once you’re in the gang you’re in it for life," Bueno told CP, adding that there is a range of reasons for youth members to stay involved in gangs, such as fear of being alone, and fear for the safety of their family.
"[...] when you join a gang, you know that going in. There are going to be repercussions. It’s a part of sin," Bueno said.
Bueno himself was involved in gang activity for 10 years before he dedicated his life to Christ and helping at-risk teens.
"You just hope the Lord will protect you and give you the grace to continue moving forward in your life," he told CP.
Regardless of the Christmas Eve violence, Pastor Reid plans on holding a New Year’s Eve party at Club Fathom.
Mayor Littlefield told Channel News 9 that the city will begin the process of shutting Club Fathom and the accompanying Mosaic Church down for good.
Mosaic issued a press release Tuesday, in which it "corrected" much of the errors reported in the media in regard to the shooting incident at Club Fathom. The statement also called on members of Chattanooga's Christian community to join the church in helping to address the city's gang violence.