An unarmed worshiper was fatally shot during a Sunday morning church service in the small town of North Wales, Pennsylvania. According to authorities, Robert Braxton died from a gunshot wound to the chest after an argument with another parishioner.
Police were called to the evangelistic Bible-teaching Keystone Fellowship Church in Montgomery County around 11:30 a.m. Witnesses said the shooting started near the back of the church just a few minutes after the 11 a.m. service started."There was a disturbance," Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin said during a news conference. "It escalated into an altercation between two church members."
Emergency responders rushed the 27-year-old man to nearby Abington Lansdale Hospital, but Braxton was pronounced dead just after 12 p.m. A medical examiner's report of the exact manner of death is still pending.
Steel said the suspected shooter is cooperating with authorities but has not been officially charged with a crime. He was also injured and treated at the hospital after the incident.
"We're going to have to determine whether the shooting was justified under the law," Steele said. "We don't know what the relationship is between the two of them."
According to the district attorney's office, the unnamed shooter had a concealed carry permit for his semi-automatic gun. Even though the investigation is still ongoing, authorities do not believe Braxton had a weapon.
As no video exists of the deadly disagreement, investigators are busy interviewing everyone who was in the church at the time of the shooting. They are trying to determine what the fight was about and what led to Braxton being shot.
"We've got a lot of interviews to do," Steele said. "That's ongoing; that's going to take some time to do."
Investigators brought over 20 witnesses to the police station to give statements.
Breeana Somers was in the church at the time and heard three shots ring out. She said there was definitely some sort of conflict between the two men prior to the gunfire. Fearing for her life, she ducked and hid under a chair.
"I heard a fight, a kind of confrontation," she said. "It may have been a fistfight between two guys. One guy was acting crazy. I'm guessing he was the shooter."
Through its Facebook page, Keystone Fellowship posted a statement about the shooting.
On Sunday afternoon, seven parishioners returned and prayed outside the church under the protection of local law enforcement. In response, the church has scheduled a public prayer service for 7 p.m. Monday night at its Skippack campus, about 13 miles away.
Some church members initially believed someone was trying to kill a visiting missionary scheduled to speak at the service. Joel Somers, who attended a previous service when the guest spoke, said no one was allowed to record or photograph the speaker as a safety precaution.
As reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the church shooting occurred while hundreds of other congregants were singing a hymn. Steel said the incident appears to be unrelated to the presence of the missionary.
Interestingly, the church shooting in Pennsylvania occurred at almost the exact moment Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was criticizing gun violence during a speech at Triumph Baptist Church in Philadelphia. Her remarks were in direct reference to the tragic shooting that killed nine people at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last summer.
Braxton's aunt, Diana Walters, could not believe it was her nephew who was killed.
"He's a young man," she told reporters. "He had his whole life ahead of him."
The Keystone Fellowship Church is located at 427 Stump Rd in North Wales, Pennsylvania. They normally hold Sunday morning services at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
Immediately after the shooting of Robert Braxton, the area was secured and the road was closed between Orchard Drive and DeKalb Pike. Authorities said the investigation remains ongoing.
[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]