Members of a small church in Huntsville, Alabama, are thanking God for their lives after they all escaped unharmed even though a man barged into their service on Sunday, pulled out a gun and threatened to kill them all if they didn't get out of his way.
"All we heard was 'Gun!' and everything went haywire," Pastor Ava Farr of Joy Cometh Ministries told Fox 8 about what happened at her church after 44-year-old Donald Gean Robinson allegedly barged into the house of worship looking for a family member.
"The children were screaming. People were climbing over each other, falling over one another, trying to get to safety. In the wake of what happened in Florida, you can imagine it was very frightening. We began to pray," she said.
Robinson, who is not a member of the church, was identified by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency as a homeless convicted sex offender. His dramatic entrance during the service left everyone shaken even though members of the church were eventually able to remove him and keep him subdued until police arrived.
"He was approached by one of our male congregants who was able to stop him from wielding the gun. But he did pull the gun out and the gun fell. He was able to retrieve the gun again but by then, everything was chaos," Farr said. "They were able to get him out of the church so that we could block the door and barricade the door. We were trying to keep order in here and get everyone calm in here."
Farr explained that even after Robinson was taken out of the church, many members were worried he would just explode and start shooting.
"It was a very harrowing experience because we didn't know if he was going to come back in or shoot the church up," Farr said." He tried to come back in, however, the doors were barricaded. There were people outside trying to speak with him. As the police and sirens were coming, he drove away."
Huntsville police were able to track down Robinson by Sunday night and he was charged with making a terrorist threat and possession of a pistol by a violent felon. He is currently being held in the Madison County Metro Jail on a $20,000 bond, WHNT reports.
Sgt. Jonathan Ware with the Huntsville Police Department told Fox 8 that Robinson went to the church due to a dispute over "child custody."
"We did make an arrest and this incident stemmed from a child custody issue," he said of Robinson. "He wasn't picked up on the scene but he was taken into custody a short time later."
Pastor Farr said since the incident church leaders have discussed new security protocol.
"There are church security classes which we are going to pay for several of our congregants to go to. There are certain safety and security measures that we're putting into place. We're going to put new security doors on the church," Farr said.
"The lesson is, churches need manpower and people specifically designed to look out for the safety and security of the congregants in the parking lots and even before they're able to enter the building," Farr said. "It could have gone another way. We thank God that his protective angels were [here] and no one was hurt. The children were shaken up. We were all shaken up, but we give God all the glory and praise."
Last November, gunman Devin Kelley, 26, massacred 26 members of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, by methodically shooting his victims in the head in an attack that lasted for several minutes inside the church's sanctuary. Some 20 others were also seriously injured in the small church in the incident that was also sparked by a domestic issue.
Huntsville police have confirmed there was also an incident near the intersection of Mountain View Drive and Kildare Street.
Officers arrested Robinson and charged him with making a terroristic threat and possession of a pistol by a violent felon.