ASHTABULA, Ohio (AP) – Panicked witnesses to a fatal Easter service shooting in Ohio 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 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.
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said the younger Riddle offered no motive for the shooting.
“Witnesses at the scene said the shooter entered church and made some references to Allah, but we are not sure if that was a motive or if there was a family problem,” Stell said. “There is no indication that the father and son had a bad relationship. Everyone thinks this was very surprising.”
Court records show Reshad Riddle has an extensive criminal record.
Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court records show he was arrested and charged with two counts of felonious assault, kidnapping, abduction and tampering with evidence in 2006.
Records show that in 2007, Reshad Riddle was charged with felonious assault, and in 2009 he was charged with possession of drugs, tampering with evidence and possession of cocaine.
According to police reports, one of the felonious assault charges stemmed from an incident when Reshad Riddle allegedly attempted to cut his girlfriend’s throat. Capt. Joseph Cellitti said the young woman’s neck had been cut with a knife and she suffered bruising on her side and chest.
Church parishioners said Reshad Riddle was a member of the church as a child, but did not attend services regularly as an adult.
“No one would have thought twice about him being here with his family on Easter,” Adams said. “His family (has) been members here for years and years.”
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report
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