Worshipers Robbed at Christmas Service; Gunman Says ‘Forgive Me, Jesus’
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) _ Four men were charged with armed robbery Monday in the holdup of scores of worshipers at a Christmas pageant in a church where one of the thieves said, ″Forgive me, Jesus,″ as he fled.
The robbers, wearing stockings and ski masks, had burst into the service at King’s Chapel on Sunday night armed with a .38-caliber revolver, a sawed-off shotgun and a baseball bat, said Jerry Brown, a dispatcher for the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department.
The Rev. Ralph Scott, the pastor, said the congregation was preparing for its annual Christmas program and participants had begun lining up to enter the rural church through the back door when the bandits entered about 7:30 p.m.
″They were just fixing to turn the pulpit over to me,″ Scott said. ″We were having the Christmas program for the kids and a lot of the parents - fathers and all - came and we had a full house.″
″They got just about everybody’s keys and all the money that they could get. ... I’d say it was around several hundred, maybe a thousand dollars,″ said Scott.
He quoted one of the robbers as saying, ″Forgive me, Jesus,″ as he left the church.
The four suspects were identified by detective Jimmie Davis as Chester Ray Hall, 26, his brother, Frank Glenn Hall, 29, and Michael Grant Shreve, 30, all of Murfreesboro; and Mancele Lee Wilson, 24, of LaVergne.
They were charged with seven counts of armed robbery and jailed in lieu of under $105,000 bond each after they appeared before a magistrate Monday, Davis said.
Authorities seized weapons believed to have been used in the robbery, he said. Between $1,500 and $2,000 in cash and nearly all the other valuables taken have been recovered, he said.
Davis estimated the value of the cash, jewelry and other items taken at $10,000.
Two churchgoers, Elizabeth Batey and Minnie Jones, suffered chest pains and were taken to Middle Tennessee Medical Center, said emergency room nurse Cathryn Driver.
Ms. Jones, 80, was treated and released, and Ms. Batey, 58, was admitted to the hospital’s coronary care unit after suffering what doctors say may have been a mild heart attack.
The men fled the chapel, located eight miles northeast of Murfreesboro, in a car, authorities said.
Scott said he did not recognize the robbers.
″When something like that comes in with a pair of pantyhose stuck down over his head and a gun looking out over your face, you just want to get out of it as easy as possible.″
He said he was relieved that no one was killed.
″I told the congregation when it was all over with we can replace the worldly things, but lives we cannot.″
″You know the good part of the whole thing?″ Scott said. ″Where the Bible said it’s better to give than receive? Well, we give it, so now they’re going to have to accept what justice they receive.
″I still think somebody ought to have got them and held them in there and let me preach to them,″ he said.