Vanansio Samson, the father of 27-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson who fatally shot a beloved mother and wounded six others at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, in 2017, said he begged police to take his son’s guns before the tragedy.
He also said he tried convincing his only child to use the Bible and prayer to shoo demons that terrorized him at night as he battled mental illness.
“I begged the Murfreesboro Police to take away guns from him because I’m scared. Emanuel love people. Emanuel can only hurt himself. Emanuel can barely kill even a chicken. … I told the police to help me take his guns away. They said ‘no,’ that is his civil right and they cannot do it,” Vanansio explained about one rainy day in June 2017 when Emanuel sent him a suicidal text.
He was so sure his son was already dead, Vanansio started crying.
“I was definitely crying and I went and reported it to the Murfreesboro Police Department,” he said.
The police would later locate Emanuel alive and told his father that his son was well. Vanansio, however, said he knew he wasn’t.
It was almost three months later on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, when police say Emanuel, who worked as a security guard at the time, arrived at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ at 10:55 a.m. in a blue SUV wearing a neoprene half face mask.
Armed with a handgun, Emanuel "fired upon the church building" with his vehicle still running in the parking lot where he shot church member Melanie Crow Smith, 39, and left her for dead. He then went on to shoot several other people inside the church building.
On the third day of Emanuel’s trial this week, Vanansio testified that his son had been struggling with bipolar disorder and depression before the shooting and if only authorities had helped him when he asked, perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided.
“If metro had detained him and taken him for evaluation that time, because I believe that sickness was out there, we would have not been sitting here today. Or this tragedy would have not happened. Because I tried to take the guns away from him. Could not,” he said.
He explained that a few months while he was out of the country in early 2017, Emanuel went through a dark period and sent him suicidal messages then too. Emanuel confided in him that he was seeing visions of black and white that kept him from sleeping at night. He urged his son at that time to try the Bible.
“We believe where I came from in South Sudan, you have some nightmare, dream, you always take a Bible and pray at night before you go to bed and put it under the pillow. No nightmare will come back to you at night when you’re sleeping,” Vanansio said.
“I send him message that he need to have faith. Take a Bible, put under your pillow and pray to God and those demons will go away. And I said, he need to be strong. He’s my only son, I don’t have any other kid and losing him means I will also lose my life. So I keep calming him down until I came back in March of 2017,” he added.
Vanansio explained how he had fled war torn South Sudan with Emanuel and his now ex-wife, when Emanuel was only 3 and lived for more than four years in a refugee camp in Egypt before coming to the United States as Christian refugees.
He and his ex-wife, who watched her mother and brother being burned alive before fleeing South Sudan, divorced a year after they arrived.
When asked to describe his son’s behavior around or near the time of the shooting, Vanansio said Emanuel was talking more than usual and had become forgetful.
“When I tried to tell him something he takes it in a rough way. He wasn’t understanding. I had to calm him down and say take it easy. This is how we need to do things,” he said.
He explained that his son was also frustrated about school because he wasn’t qualified to receive full tuition help. He had to come up with $2,000 to finish up his college degree.
“I told him, I am back, I am here, I can help you with those tuition thing. Stay focused, do your schoolwork and the little work you’re doing and as soon as I get a place to live, because I was still living with my friend then, we can stay together. You don’t have to worry paying for anything,” Vanansio explained.
Maya Hill, the mother of Samson's daughter, also testified that on the day of the shooting Emanuel left her what she thought was a suicidal note.
“I’m terribly sorry for not living up to your expectation my queen, it’s no secret I never deserved you,” she read in part from the note.
Samson also told jurors he remembers shooting himself but no one else.
"Do you remember shooting Melanie Crow," defense attorney Jennifer Thompson asked.
"I do not," Emanuel replied.
"Do you remember shooting Pastor Joey Spann," Thompson asked.
"I do not," Emanuel said.
Samson further noted that he didn't remember putting on a mask, tactical vest or writing a note referencing Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, News Channel 5 reported. In the weeks leading up to the shooting, he said he was having hallucinations and not feeling like himself.
"What I remember thinking and feeling in those days or that day in particular is waking up and wanting to end my life. I was extremely depressed and I felt kind of numb," he said.
Prosecutors argued that Emanuel was conveniently choosing the details he recalled.
In a transcript of calls from October 2017 between Emanuel and his then girlfriend, he said he heard the shooting victims saying "some funny (expletive)" when he was on the floor of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ after he was shot during a tussle with a churchgoer.
"When I put the two bullets in my chest and laid down and I was on the floor and I could hear what everyone was saying, and some people were saying some funny (expletive), bruh and, I was like, if Maya were here listening to y'all's whack (expletive), bruh," Emanuel said in one call.