WAXHAW, N.C. (BP) — A worship service at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Waxhaw, N.C., ended abruptly Sunday morning May 24 after a disturbance by a neighbor led to a police-involved shooting.
Pastor Rich Myers said the church bears “no ill will” toward its neighbor.
“We pray for God’s blessings on him and his family,” Myers said.
Police were called when Christopher Eugene Ross, 54, was reportedly yelling obscenities across the road from the church during the congregation’s outdoor drive-in service. The service, which began at 10 a.m., was interrupted around 10:30 when Ross allegedly began yelling toward the church.
A Union County Sheriff’s Office deputy responded to a 911 call from John Skinner, an Oak Grove deacon. A church member who knew Ross had tried to talk to him just before police were called, but Ross allegedly picked up rocks and threw them.
“There was no reasoning with him,” Skinner said.
The deputy who first responded to the call approached Ross outside his home, which is located diagonally across the street from the church. Ross allegedly had a knife and fought with the deputy, who then tried to use his stun gun on Ross.
A sheriff’s department press release said Ross continued fighting and resisting even when a second deputy arrived. That deputy fired his handgun, striking Ross two times. After a third deputy arrived, they were able to take him into custody.
Ross was taken to a hospital in Charlotte for treatment of his wounds, which were not life threatening.
“We believe he will be released very soon,” sheriff’s office communications officer Tony Underwood said.
Ross faces charges of disorderly conduct for interfering with the church service, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon against law enforcement officers and resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer. Two of the deputies involved were treated and released by paramedics at the scene.
“In regards to the scary incident near our church today I am so grateful to Jesus for His divine intervention,” Myers said on the church’s Facebook page.
He also thanked law enforcement and first responders, and said church members were praying for the injured deputies and Ross.
Skinner said church members did not see the confrontation between Ross and police but did hear the yelling and gunfire.
Skinner and Myers said this was not the first encounter with Ross.
The sheriff’s office confirmed a report had been made earlier in May when Ross was heard yelling at church members during another Sunday morning service.
Skinner called the police then too, but was told to file a report and to call 911 if they had problems again.
“He never came out,” Skinner said. “We didn’t hear anything from him.”
When the church started outdoor services in response to COVID-19 restrictions on public activity, people would honk car horns at various times during the services.
After the encounter with Ross in early May, church leaders asked members not to honk their horns, and they lowered the volume of the sound system used for the services. They didn’t receive complaints from Ross or anyone else, so they thought they had made the necessary changes.
Myers said he continued with his sermon amid the disruption. He couldn’t see from the church’s front steps what was happening nearby.
“First I noticed people looking and being distracted,” he said. “People started getting out of their cars.”
He said he heard two sounds — like firecrackers — and thought, “Surely that’s not gunfire.” His sermon was cut short because of the disruption.
Myers said no one had complained about the outdoor services except for Ross, and they had tried to make adjustments to alleviate the tension.
Many in the community have reached out to check on the church, including Eric Cook, Union Baptist Association’s associational missionary.
“He prayed with me over the phone and encouraged me,” Myers said, adding that church members have reached out as well.
“The folks have been very concerned about one another. They’ve been concerned about the gentleman and his family.”
Because of the confrontation and shooting so close to the church, Skinner said the deacons are looking into tightening some of their security protocols. He even talked with one of the responding deputies about training for church security teams.
The church is making plans to meet inside the building again when COVID-19 restrictions lift.
“We’re doing our best to even tighten up our security more since this incident happened,” Myers said. “We plan to go above and beyond to really make sure that there’s safety for everyone.”
According to the sheriff’s department press release, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation will conduct a criminal investigation into the shooting, and the department will conduct a separate internal affairs investigation to ensure agency policies were followed.