Gunfire strikes church; kids unhurt

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Students in an after-school session at a Wilson church were uninjured when stray bullets struck the building where they studied Wednesday.

Rev. Phil Byrum, pastor at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and Iglesia La Guadalupana at 106 Reid St. E., said about a dozen children from kindergarten to fourth grade were completing homework with two adult volunteers when gunfire hit St. Mark’s House, also known as La Casa de San Marcos.

“They all hit the floor,” Byrum said.

Byrum was not at the building at the time it was struck but was called to the scene shortly after the incident.

Police responded to the shots-fired call at 4:04 p.m. A teenager faces juvenile charges in the shooting and more arrests are expected, according to Wilson Police Department spokesman Sgt. Steve Stroud.

“Investigating officers were able to determine that several individuals were in the area when the shooting occurred,” Stroud said in a Thursday release. “It was also determined that the church was not intentionally targeted but was struck by stray rounds.”

A 17-year-old was charged with two counts of discharging a weapon into occupied property and one count of discharging a firearm from an enclosure. The suspect’s identity was not disclosed due to a new North Carolina law that prevents 16- and 17-year-old defendants from automatically being charged as adults. Juvenile court proceedings are confidential.

Stroud said the suspect was held under a $150,000 secured bond.

Byrum said the after-school program is in session from 3-5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays each week.

Bullet holes are visible above the sign to the building a less than a foot from the front door and on the east side of the building.

Standing inside the educational building where tables are set up with chairs for children to sit and study, Byrum looked up Thursday at four distinct holes in the interior walls.

“Fortunately, as I have been able to see, all of the bullet holes are high up,” Byrum said. “Thankfully, I would say, probably six or eight kids and adults had gone home.”

“I suppose it is a sign of the times,” Byrum said. “They all hit the floor when they heard the first sound. The ladies and the kids hit the floor. The bullets were higher, although they were still flying bullets.”

“Outside, there were a couple of vehicles out here,” Byrum said. “That is where the mamas like to be. One of them had a baby in her arms who walks, but is tiny. They had a different perspective to take on it all because they were between here and the street.”

Byrum said the gunfire seemed to coincide with or come from two vehicles that were driving together on Nash Street at the time.

A neighbor who did not want to be named said he heard four or five shots. He thought his own house might have been shot.

He stepped up to the window to see two young men in their late teens running and a black truck he believed was involved in the shooting.

Byrum said about 15 Wilson police officers in at least six or seven police cruisers responded to the scene.

“They were a serious bunch of people. They were wonderful,” Byrum said of the officers’ response.

Byrum said the police expressed distress that innocent people get caught up in such an incident or could get hurt, Byrum said.

“I am so thankful that no one was hurt,” Byrum said.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Wilson Police Department at 252-399-2323 or Crime Stoppers at 252-243-2255.