A 51-year-old man who killed two people at a Kentucky grocery and was subdued by a civilian who told him that “whites don’t shoot whites” had earlier tried to enter a church with a predominantly black congregation, police confirmed late Thursday.
Though chief of police Sam Rogers refused to “speculate on motive at this time” during an afternoon news conference in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, the killer’s failed attempt to enter the town’s First Baptist church was caught on video. Though the church welcomes all comers, it “is headed by a black pastor and has a large African-American membership” according to the Associated Press.
Predominantly black congregations of Baptists have been closely linked to struggles for social, legal, and economic equality for African American people in the U.S. for centuries. As such, they have repeatedly become targets for racist violence — including the massacre of nine parishioners at a famed A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, during a mid-week bible study meeting by white supremacist Dylann Roof in 2015.
Jeffersontown’s First Baptist holds regular Wednesday night services, as well as weekly bible study groups and choir practices. The killer tried to enter the church in the mid-afternoon, however, and would likely not have found it crowded had he been able to gain entry.
Rogers’ professional reluctance to speculate on what motivated Gregory Bush to kill two people in the large Louisville suburb on Wednesday is understandable, but one detail from the son of the man who confronted and subdued Bush before police had arrived sheds substantial light on the killer’s brainwaves.
“He said, ‘Don’t shoot me, I won’t shoot you.’ He’s like, ‘Whites don’t kill whites,’” Steve Zinninger, son of the man who confronted Bush outside the store, told local WAVE-3 News, explaining how his father had gotten Bush to stop shooting. Police seemed to contradict some details of Zinninger’s account, saying that the licensed firearm owner who confronted Bush had exchanged gunfire with the man. They did not comment on the reported racial solidarity expressed between the two in the parking lot.
Both people Bush killed — a man inside the store, and a woman he pursued out of the store — were black.
Maurice Stallard, 69, was at the store buying poster board for his grandson, who the Courier-Journal reports was standing next to him when he was killed. Friends described Stallard “as a warm, easy-going man who always greeted people with a hug” and “as a hard-working family man,” the paper wrote.
Vickie Lee Jones, 67, lived a mile or so from the store and was in the parking lot when Bush shot and killed her. Family members told the Courier-Journal that Jones, a widow since 2010, “had moved to Jeffersontown to be safe” and described her as “one of the sweetest people you could know.”
Years before he attacked the two strangers — calmly holstering his gun to walk out of the store between the two killings, according to local reports — Bush had showed signs of instability and violence, family members told the Associated Press. He had attacked his elderly parents in 2009 and threatened his ex-wife during a court hearing the same year, the wire service reported.
Like Roof before him, Bush was brought in by police alive and unharmed. He has been charged with two counts of murder and several lesser crimes related to discharging a firearm in public.