San Francisco Bay Area police were still searching Tuesday for three suspects wanted for shooting up a Richmond, Calif., church in an attack that has startled a city reeling from a string of recent crimes.
In a Sunday afternoon outburst of violence in the industrial city 20 miles outside San Francisco, two teenage brothers were shot while attending midday services at the New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ. Police said three hooded men entered the church, looked around the pews, and quickly left. When they returned, police said, one man opened fire, injuring the brothers.
The gunfire, which occurred as the choir sang “Leaning on Jesus” to the nearly 100 parishioners, can be heard on this video made during the services.
On Tuesday, police said they were close to making arrests in the case and that the two wounded victims were aiding in the investigation.
While Richmond has seen more than its share of gun violence and homicides during the past year, some said the incident was especially chilling because it occurred inside a house of worship.
"It has always been that, whatever is happening in the street, you don't take it within the walls of a church," the Rev. Andre Shumake, a local anticrime activist, told the West County Times. "It sends a message: There is no safe place in Richmond."
Richmond recorded at least 47 homicides in 2009, which police have attributed largely to gang activity, according to Richmond Confidential, a local blog. Last year it had the 14th highest crime rate in America, according to CQ News. So far this year, the city has seen seven homicides.
Sunday’s shooting “definitely crosses a line that people should pay attention to,” the Rev. Kamal Hassan told Richmond Confidential. “We once looked upon houses of worship as places of respect and sanctuary, out of bounds for this kind of activity.”
Last year, the city made national headlines after a 16-year-old high school student was gang raped outside of her homecoming dance. Seven suspects have been charged in the Oct. 24 attack, which police said at least 20 people witnessed.
In the wake of Sunday's church shooting and other violence in Richmond, area faith leaders told KTVU that they planned to organized an anticrime march next month.
This is not the first church shooting in recent months to grab headlines. In May, a gunman killed George Tiller, a physician known for his longtime performance of late-term abortions, in a Wichita, Kan., church where he was an usher.
On a Sunday in March in Maryville, Ill., a man walked into the First Baptist Church and shot and killed the pastor. And in March 2008 a gunman killed two parishioners in a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn.
According to Church Safety News, a website that tracks violence in America's houses of worship, 48 shootings or instances of gun violence occurred at churches in 2009.
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