Black pastor arrested after calling 911 on white trespassers threatening to kill him

Apostle Leon McCray and his wife, Valerie, lead the Lighthouse Church and Marketplace Ministries International in Woodstock, Virginia.
Apostle Leon McCray and his wife, Valerie, lead the Lighthouse Church and Marketplace Ministries International in Woodstock, Virginia. | Facebook/Lighthouse Church and Marketplace Ministries International

A black Virginia pastor, who said he was forced to brandish his gun to scare off five white individuals who allegedly verbally and physically attacked him when he tried to prevent them from dumping on his property, said he was arrested after he called 911 for help on June 1.

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter has apologized to pastor Leon McCray of Lighthouse Church and Marketplace Ministries International in Woodstock. The sheriff announced that five people involved in the attack were arrested and that two department supervisors have been placed on unpaid administrative leave until a review is completed. 

“Very traumatic experience. I don’t know if you have ever been through anything like that. I never have. Very trying,” McCray said in a sermon broadcast on Facebook Live.

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McCray explained that on June 1, he saw two people trying to dump a refrigerator on his property in Edinburg and told them to stop. One person, he said, verbally attacked him and the other one went to retrieve three other people.

“I informed these individuals that they were trespassing and that they couldn’t dump their refrigerator on my property, and I asked them to leave. They became irate and verbally attacked me,” the pastor said.

Shortly after, he said three men and two women attacked him.

“At the same time, these same individuals were threatening my life, telling me that my black life, and black lives matter stuff” did not sit well in the town, he explained.

“Being threatened and being in fear for my life, I took and felt compelled to pull my concealed weapon — legal concealed weapon — to save my life. And when I did that, finally, these individuals backed up long enough for me to call 911.”

McCray said that when he called 911, instead of asking how he was doing, the person on the phone only wanted to know about the person with the gun. McCray explained that he needed help.

About 10 police officers arrived on the scene. However, McCray said the officers took his gun and immediately went over to the “mob” that had trespassed on his property.

“They went and talked to them. They were still hollering racial epithets. They were still threatening my life. They were still telling me what they were going to do to me. What did the sheriff do?” McCray asked. “I was really never given the opportunity to tell what was going on.”

After the police spoke with the trespassers, McCray said that they returned and told him they had to arrest him for brandishing a firearm. The pastor said he asked the arresting officer, who he has known for almost 20 years, what would happen to the trespassing and assault charges against the trespassers.

McCray said he was handcuffed in front of his attackers and arrested.

From left to right: Amanda Salyers, Donny Salyers, Dennis Salyers, Farrah Salyers, and Christopher Sharp.
From left to right: Amanda Salyers, Donny Salyers, Dennis Salyers, Farrah Salyers, and Christopher Sharp. | Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office

When McCray was released from custody later on the night of June 1, he submitted a written statement. Two days later on June 3, McCray sat down with Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter to discuss what happened. In his statement released last Friday, Carter said that if he were faced with similar circumstances, he “would have probably done the same thing.”

Carter initiated an immediate review of McCray’s charge. On Wednesday, the sheriff’s office dropped the charge against McCray. 

"[A]fter talking with him about the incident, it was apparent to me that the charge of brandishing was certainly not appropriate," Carter wrote in the statement. 

“Lastly, I have apologized to Mr. McCray, and I appreciate his patience as I have worked through these matters,” Carter continued. “I do listen to citizen complaints and I take them seriously.”

According to The Northern Virginia Daily, McCray said last Thursday that he was waiting on the commonwealth attorney’s office to review the charge and send him confirmation in writing. 

Carter said that he met twice with the Shenandoah commonwealth’s attorney and assured that she agreed with his assessment of the brandishing charge and that “she would drop this charge.”

Last Thursday night, five people involved in the attack on the preacher were arrested on charges of assault by a mob and hate crime assault. Four of the five were also charged with felony abduction, Carter said.

Forty-three-year-old Donny Richard Salyers, 42-year-old Farrah Lee Salyers, 26-year-old Dennis James Salyers and 57-year-old Christopher Kevin Sharp were charged on one count of a simple assault hate crime, one count of assault by mob and one count of abduction. 

Twenty-six-year-old Amanda Dawn Salyers was charged with assault by a mob and hate crime assault. 

All five are being held without bond on hate crime charges. The initial court date is scheduled for July 17. 

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