Man walks into church with assault rifle and ammo: He finds Jesus, but something's missing


That was my first reaction when I heard about a stranger walking into a North Carolina church assembly with a rifle and ammo — and finding a welcoming congregation.

The local newspaper, the Fayetteville Observer, quoted pastor Larry Wright of Heal the Land Outreach Ministries:

Wright said the man, who has not been identified by police yet, was carrying the rifle without a clip in one hand and a loaded ammunition clip in the other hand. But, Wright said, he didn’t know if the rifle had a round of ammunition in it.
Wright stepped down quickly from the pulpit when he saw the man, who appeared to be in his late 20s.
The man continued moving toward the front of the church, pointing the rifle into the air.
The two met, near the front of the sanctuary.
“Can I help you?’’ the pastor asked the man.
Wright, who is a 57-year-old retired soldier, said the man’s answer determined his next action.
“If he was belligerent, I was going to tackle him,” said Wright, who is 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds.
But the stranger was calm, and Wright took the weapon from him. He then patted him down, and the pastor summoned four strong deacons to embrace the disarmed man, in an effort to make him feel welcome.
Wright then prayed for the man, who fell to his knees and began crying.

As tends to happen these days, the story quickly went viral — and I found myself looking for more details on the man involved. After all, if he had opened fire, journalists would be delving into every kernel of his background.

But the national reports I read seemed content to protect the man's anonymity.

CNN called him an "unidentified man" while relating the story from the pastor's perspective:

Wright whispered in the man's ear that police were waiting in the vestibule because he had scared a lot of people.
Then the man asked to speak to the 60 or so churchgoers. He apologized to them, telling them when he set out that evening he intended to do something terrible that night. But the Lord spoke to him, he said.
Wright described the gunman as emotionally distraught even though his life seemed to be on the upswing.
He told the pastor he had just gotten out of prison, had a new job and a new bride. The man looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s, Wright said.

Likewise, NBC News declined to name him:

Wright took the rifle and passed it to a deacon. Then he patted the man down to make sure he didn't have additional weapons. "I asked God to help him and bless him," Wright said. "He fell to his knees, and he began to weep."
He was, it turned out, a parolee and military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, Wright told NBC News. His wife had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness, and he was off his medication. He needed money. He was stressed.
"He got the gun because he was going to rob to get money," Wright said. "He was going to do what he had to do to take care of his family."

On the local level, WRAL in Raleigh even blotted out the man's face after he returned to the church while the television station was interviewing the pastor:

The man, who was just released from the hospital and asked not to be identified, said his wife was just diagnosed with a debilitating disease. They are struggling financially and the power had just been cut off at his home. On top of that, the veteran explained that he is struggling with PTSD, partly because he can’t afford his medication.
He faces no charges in connection to the incident.
“[There was] financial stress. I haven’t been on my medicine for a while,” said the man.

The church's eagerness to embrace a troubled person? I get that.

But who knew the media could be so forgiving and accommodating? Is that really their job? Shouldn't journalists provide all the facts they can, including the man's name and verified circumstances? I mean, where's the normal skepticism?

Or could it be that am I totally off-base? Maybe I should change my byline to "Scrooge?" I welcome your thoughts on whether the media should — or shouldn't — identify the man and why.

In the meantime, the Fayetteville Observer's latest story — focused on the pastor landing in the national spotlight — includes the man's name:

Fayetteville police have identified the man as Gregory Boone, who is 32 and lives on Cool Spring Street downtown.
Boone has not been charged with a crime, Police Chief Harold Medlock said Monday.
"We are still investigating other aspects of that case," said Medlock, who commended Wright and his congregation for how they handled the incident. "One of the things we have to do is figure out where that weapon came from."

I say: Kudos to the Observer for committing an act of journalism and identifying the man.

What say you, GetReligion readers?





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