FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WRAL)- It was a frightening sight for many when a man carrying a rifle walked through the doors of a Fayetteville church during a service on New Year’s Eve, but congregants describe what happened next as a holiday miracle.
Parishioners had gathered at Heal the Land Outreach Ministries on New Year’s Eve when an armed man walked in, and Pastor Larry Wright was the first to see him.
“I asked him ‘can I help you’,” said Wright. “His next words were ‘can you pray for me.’ When he said that, then I knew everything was going to be alright.”
Church member Taylor Morgan said that upon seeing the man, her first thought was of the fatal Charleston church shooting, but then the man went up to the altar and put the gun on it.
“I didn’t see anything but this big rifle,” she said.
Days after the event, the congregation was still giving thanks because they were all aware the story could have had a very different ending.
As WRAL News spoke to Wright about security in churches, the man responsible for the scare returned to the church- this time to apologize.
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.
“I saw in his eyes hopelessness, hurt, pain, despair,” said Wright.
The man is also a convicted felon who was given a gun. He said he came to the church because he thought it would be a safe place to get rid of the weapon without getting in trouble.
Nobody was injured during the incident.
The man said he never meant any harm and on Sunday, after saying thank you and asking for forgiveness, he asked if the congregation would allow him to be part of the Heal the Land Outreach Ministries.
“I pray that he comes back and visits us. I’m not scared of him, not now,” said church member Lucrecia Hall.
The congregation believes the night they opened the door to the troubled man, they opened the door to God. The congregants said they have made plans to baptize the man next Sunday.