Minutes later, seven people lay dead in a congregation packed with teenagers, the assailant put his 9mm semi-automatic handgun to his temple and the United States faced another mass shooting with no easy answers on how to stop it all happening again.
While the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, yesterday mourned its loved ones, with seven people still in hospital from Wednesday's attack on an evening prayer service, police and federal investigators tried to put together a profile of the killer, whom they named as Larry Gene Ashbrook, 47.
A Federal Bureau of Investigation search of his house, 10 minutes' drive from the church in the south-western suburbs of the city, revealed he had comprehensively wrecked the place before setting out on his rampage, pouring concrete down the drains, overturning furniture, punching holes in the walls and ripping family photographs to pieces.
Ashbrook, who was wearing a black jacket, jeans and a white T-shirt, spouted profanities and anti-religious slogans as he opened fire, leading many in the community - an affluent white suburb much like Littleton, Colorado, where 15 people died in a school shooting in April - to characterise his act as a crime against Christianity. "What you believe is all bullshit," Ashbrook was quoted as saying.
Police and acquaintances, however, described Ashbrook as an eccentric loner with no obvious connection to the church. He had no police record.
"I always saw him driving around in his father's old Chevy,'' said Linda McConn,who had known him since childhood. "We always just kind of thought he was kind of useless.''
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