Police say that a man is facing voluntary manslaughter charges after he shot another man during Sunday service at a Montgomery County church in Pennsylvania.
The shooting occurred following a dispute over seating arrangements at the Keystone Fellowship Church, a suburban Philadelphia church on Stump Road, North Wales, Pennsylvania, according to NBC 10.
Mark T. Storms, 46, allegedly shot and killed Robert E. Braxton III, 27, during Sunday church service, following a brief dispute at about 11 a.m.
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According to Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steel, Storms of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, was charged with voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the death of Braxton of Montgomeryville on Thursday.
Braxton sustained a gunshot wound to the right side of the chest after Storms allegedly opened fire on him in a packed church. The victim was rushed to the Abington-Lansdale Hospital where doctors pronounced him dead soon after midday.
Witnesses, who said they hid under pews in fright during the shooting, had noticed Braxton — a church member — when he arrived apparently in a foul mood.
He quarreled with and cursed at an usher when he entered the church. Church staff tried unsuccessfully to calm him down in the back of the church before he walked to a pew and sat down. A church member sitting behind him leaned forward, tapped him on the shoulder, and tried to inform him that the seat was reserved.
Braxton responded angrily, cursing at the church member, forbidding him to touch him.
According to court documents, Braxton snarled at the church member, saying, “Don’t f****** touch me.”
After an assistant pastor and ushers had tried to calm Braxton, Storms walked up to him, and according to witnesses, showed Braxton his Concealed Weapons Permit badge to indicate that he was carrying a weapon.
Police confirmed that Storms was carrying a.9 mm semi-automatic handgun gun at the time.
Investigators reportedly spoke with about 50 witnesses who gave different accounts of what transpired before Storms drew his gun and allegedly opened fire on Braxton.
According to one witness, when Storms showed Braxton his badge, Braxton yelled, “F*** you and your fake badge, get the f**** out of here.”
Another witness said that when Storm drew his weapon, Braxton jeered, “That isn’t a real gun.”
A third witness recalled that Braxton taunted Storms, saying, “What are you going to do, shoot me?”
According to WPVI-TV Philadelphia (6ABC Action News), Storms told Braxton he had to leave the church although he had no “official function with the church or a history of law enforcement.”
Braxton responded by aiming a punch at Storms.
Another witness recalled that Storms opened fire only after Braxton aimed a punch at him.
The shooting occurred as the congregation sang a hymn, Philly reports. A witness said three gunshots that sounded like champagne corks popping rang out.
Storms reportedly told police that he fired because he feared for his life at the moment Braxton attacked at him. He said he felt that he was in “great danger.” He also claimed that he acted out of concern for other church members.
Storms reportedly told police investigators that he showed Braxton his concealed carry badge because he thought it would help to calm him down. According to Storms, showing his badge and indicating he was armed had defused tense situations in the past.
Investigators also said it appeared that Braxton was unarmed at the time.
Steel said that investigators looked at the relationship or previous interaction between the two men that may have influenced the fatal outcome of the brief interaction.
Steel added that police investigated the incident to determine whether the shooting was “justified under the law.”
Braxton’s father, Robert Braxton, Jr., told WPTVI-TV that he had forgiven Storms for allegedly shooting his son, but that he was relieved that Storms is being prosecuted
The Keystone Fellowship in Montgomeryville has released a statement expressing sadness about the incident.
The Associated Press (AP) reports that no video of the incident exists due to an unrelated incident.
The church authorities had announced on Facebook that video or photography would be forbidden during service on that Sunday because of the presence of a guest speaker from Sudan, a country where Christians are suffering persecution. Cameras were forbidden at the service for the safety of the visitor.
[Image via Augustas Didžgalvis/Wikimedia Commons]