ATLANTA — The man suspected of walking into a service at an Atlanta-area megachurch and gunning down a church volunteer leading a prayer was committed eight years ago to a psychiatric hospital after a violent incident in Maryland, court records show.
Police in Georgia said former church worker Floyd Palmer, 51, entered a chapel at World Changers Church International Wednesday and opened fire, killing Greg McDowell, 39.
“He walked in calmly, opened fire, and left as calmly,” Fulton County Police Cpl. Kay Lester said.
Palmer was a former maintenance employee at the church who resigned in August for personal reasons, Lester said.
The church’s well-known founder and leader, the Rev. Creflo Dollar, was not there at the time.
Palmer was taken into custody a few hours later at a Macy’s at a mall in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead neighborhood, Lester said. Police spotted his black Subaru station wagon with tinted windows in the parking lot of Lenox Square. They didn’t recover a weapon.
He faces murder and other charges, according to online jail records.
Palmer was scheduled to appear in court Thursday, but waived his appearance. It wasn’t clear yet whether he has an attorney.
Court records show a man named Floyd Lester Palmer, born on the same day in 1960, was charged in Baltimore in 2001 with attempted murder, assault and handgun charges. He was committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2004 after pleading not criminally responsible to lesser charges. The records show he was released the next year subject to conditions that were to remain in effect for five years.
The court filings include motions by the defense for a dangerousness evaluation, which was later withdrawn.
Details of what led to the charges weren’t immediately known. Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department did not have arrest records in the case, which is not unusual in cases where someone has been committed. Palmer’s attorney in the case, Kenneth Ravenell, was out of the country Wednesday, his staff said.
In Atlanta, about 20 to 25 people were gathered in the chapel when the shooting happened. No one else was injured.
Investigators were working to determine if Palmer and McDowell knew each other.
“We do not know if the victim was targeted,” Lester said.
Ken Terry, a pastor at the church who is acting as a spokesman for McDowell’s family, said the church family was distraught and trying to comfort McDowell’s family.
“He would be considered a model dad,” Terry told reporters. “To have this happen is just devastating.”
Although the campus has security officers and surveillance cameras, Lester said the suspect was known to some at the service, so his presence wouldn’t have been unusual.
The violence upset members and neighbors of the church, which is one of the largest in the United States, claiming 30,000 members at the main campus and a ministry of satellite churches across the country.
Along with Bishop Eddie Long, Dollar is one of the most prominent African-American preachers based around Atlanta who have built successful ministries on the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.
Dollar didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press, but he preached Wednesday evening at a Bible study in the campus’s larger World Dome sanctuary. He repeated the importance of having faith in God even when bad things happen and rejecting fear and doubt.
“We pray for this family,” he said, referring to McDowell. “We pray for both families and then we pray for every family that’s in here tonight.”
Earlier Wednesday, several church members walked over to the scene after hearing about the shooting.
Albert Henry, 55, of Riverdale, said his 5-year-old son was in day care near the chapel. He said staffers called and told him to pick up the child.
“I can’t believe someone just did it in the House of the Lord,” said Henry, as his boy sat in the back seat.
Linda Pritchett, 43, a church member for 10 years, said the shooting didn’t make her feel less secure attending services. She said people cannot give in to fear. But she said she grieved for the victim and his family.
“When something happens to one of us, it hurts all of us,” she said.