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Published: Sunday, 7/27/2008

Gunman opens fire in Tennessee church, 7 injured


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A gunman entered a church and opened fire as congregants watched a youth performance Sunday, sending seven people to the hospital, officials and a church member said.

None of the children were injured, said a church member who arrived moments after the shooting. The gunmen was tackled after firing three times with a shotgun, church member Steve Drevick said.

Knoxville Deputy Chief Gus Paidousis said the suspect was taken into police custody. He didn't immediately release any other details.

Some of the victims had head injuries, Drevick said. A hospital would not release their conditions.

The gunman entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and began firing a shotgun, said Drevick, who was called to the church immediately after the shooting to help out and later gave a statement to reporters.

Drevick had spoken to several eyewitnesses and said no one at the church recognized the gunman. He said the gunman had more ammunition on him.

There were about 200 people in the church at the time of the shooting watching a youth performance being put on by 25 children.

Police had cordoned off the church with yellow and red tape, and were taking statements and collecting video cameras from church members who'd been taping the performance. Police at the church would not immediately release any information and did not return phone calls from The Associated Press.

The seven patients were "in various stages of treatment," said Becky Thompson, spokeswoman for the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

The church's minister was on vacation in western North Carolina at the time of the shooting but returned Sunday afternoon.

"We've been touched by a horrible act of violence. We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers," the Rev. Chris Buice said in a statement outside the church.

A woman from a nearby Presbyterian church brought flowers to the scene. Carrie Niceley, 19, said an announcement about the shooting was made while she was attending her church Sunday.

The Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is a community that meets to worship and work together for social change, according to the church's Web site. Since the 1950's, the congregation has worked for desegregation, racial harmony, fair wages, women's rights and gay rights, according to the Web site. The congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the ACLU.

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