Panicked witnesses to a fatal Easter-service shooting feared many might be killed as the victim’s son approached the pulpit, waving a handgun and yelling about God and Allah.
“Tragic as it is, it could have been so much worse,” Rev. Steve Sargent, associate pastor of the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in Ashtabula, said Monday as he pointed out where the gunman moved through the sanctuary.
Michael Wofford, 59, a worshipper who attended Sunday’s service with his wife and two grandchildren, said he feared a shooting rampage after the gunman finished his spiel from the pulpit area.
“Is he going to just walk out of the church or is he going to start shooting people at random,” Wofford asked in the church vestibule. “Sooner or later, he’s going to run out of words. It could have been much worse.”
Police say Reshad Riddle, 28, went to the church and killed his father, 53-year-old Richard Riddle, with a single shot from a handgun Sunday afternoon.
The suspect appeared Monday in Ashtabula Municipal Court with his ankles and wrists shackled.
Riddle made rambling comments about God and said he wanted to be treated fairly. The judge agreed to appoint a public defender.
The prosecutor asked for $1 million bail and, if he makes it, a psychiatric evaluation and 24-hour monitoring.
Ann Riddle, sister of the victim and aunt of the suspect, said later the family knew of no possible motive.
Riddle, receiving friends at the family home, called her brother a loving and caring family member. “He was a devoted family member, he was always there for the family. He cared a lot about people,” said Riddle, who declined to comment on other aspects of the case.
After shooting the victim, the gunman then walked down the side aisle of the church, decorated with lilies for Easter, and sent panicked worshippers crawling over blue padded pews, running for the doors and climbing out windows in adjacent rooms.
“He seemed to be like he was deranged. I don’t know if he was on something,” Sargent said while arranging a group-counseling session for traumatized church members.
“My suspicion is that he may have been on something, some mind-altering chemical that caused him to act out like he did.”
Associate Pastor Sean Adams told The (Ashtabula) Star Beacon newspaper that Reshad Riddle walked through the church, still holding the gun, and yelled that the killing was “the will of Allah. This is the will of God.”
Some worshippers hid in a bathroom until police arrived, according to audio of a 911 call made from the restroom. The female caller told a dispatcher she’d seen the armed man, wearing black and red, walk across the yard quickly.
“We can hear him. He’s got a gun, and he’s in there trying to preach,” she says, pleading for police to come quickly while yelling is heard intermittently in the background. Officers arrived and apprehended the suspect within four minutes of her call.