A 16-year-old female is in custody after plotting to attack a church in Georgia with a demographic of predominantly black worshipers.
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Georgia was the center of a plot created by a white teenager who allegedly targeted the predominately black church.
In a statement Tuesday, the Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish explained to reporters,
“Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” he said.
Sources indicate that the teenager, whose name has not been released, took steps to plot out the attack on the church. It is believed that she had been planning this attack for at least two weeks. News outlets have reported that the teen did in fact show up at the church last Friday evening, armed with several butcher knives and planning to attack parishioners.
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However, when the girl arrived at the church, news stations indicated that there was no one there. Police had been notified earlier that day by another student who had learned of the girl’s plan and alerted their School Resource Officer.
Chief Parrish told reporters on Tuesday,
“The plot came to light when Gainesville High School students told administrators the 16-year-old had a notebook with detailed plans to kill worshippers at the church.”
He went on to state,
“Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” he said. “Students, school administrators and law officers worked together to thwart a potentially horrific incident.”
The police have not yet released full details of the teenager’s plot, other than to say she had a detailed notebook that had pages full of her intentions to harm the churchgoers.
When police notified Rev. Dr. Michelle Rizer-Pool, who leads the congregation at Bethel AME, of the attempted attack against her parish, Rizer-Pool told reporters that she was shocked by the news.
“When I found out I drove to the church, went inside it and prayed and anointed my church and asked God to put a hedge of protection around us. That was on Friday. On Sunday, I tried to relay what was going on without a lot of emotion so that the congregants would remain calm.”
She went on to explain,
“You know, I’ve been preaching for a while now about being on the battlefield, being a soldier in God’s army and that if you believe that God is in charge, he won’t allow hurt or harm to come your way. One of my members told me, ‘You’ve been getting us ready.’ I guess I have.”
Rev. Rizer- Pool has pastored the church since June 2018. The church and its approximately 40 members have served the community for 118 years.
Rev. Rizer- Pool also explained to reporters,
“I had asked for active shooting training for the church prior to this but it never happened. Still, I had done a few things to keep us as safe as possible like upgrading the security system, locking the back door and reminding our ushers, our first line of defense, just to be aware of people we don’t know,” she said.
The South has had a long history of churches being the target of attacks. In June of 2015 the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was the center of an attack by a suspected White supremacist Dylann Roof.
Roof fatally shot nine black church members while they were at a bible study lesson in the church. It is reported that Roof told the FBI that he hoped that the attack on the church would “start a race war”.
In April of 2019, 21-year-old Holden Matthews, the white son of a sheriff’s deputy was arrested on charges of arson related to three churches that were set ablaze in Louisiana. All three churches were congregations of predominantly black worshippers.
The Rev. Rose Johnson Mackey, who is the director of the Newtown Florist Club – a civil rights organization that was founded in Gainesville roughly 70 years ago – told news outlets,
“It just grieves my spirit on a number of different levels, one that the intentions of this young person were so calculated to do great harm against people who just simply had no knowledge of such a plot.”
Rev. Mackey went on to state,
“We’re just very pleased that our police department acted so swiftly, and the police department in conjunction with our school administrators were just on top of the situation.”
Police reported that the 16-year-old girl in this case is charged with criminal attempt to commit murder. She is currently being held in a youth detention center in Gainesville. Police say the investigation is ongoing.
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