In the small Ambridge, Pa., community, a quick-thinking witness and swift police response prevented a potential massacre at Greater Dominion Church on Sunday morning, Aug. 27. Jeffrey Harris, a 38-year-old White man, now faces a litany of charges, including aggravated assault and making terroristic threats, after attempting to enter the predominantly Black church with murderous intent.
The ordeal unfolded just after 9 a.m. on a quiet Sunday morning when multiple concerned citizens called 911 to report a man clad in a camouflage vest brandishing a long gun and menacingly targeting two women outside the church at 4th Street and Melrose Avenue. According to a criminal complaint, the eyewitnesses watched in terror as Harris threatened the women, all while attempting to gain access to the church.
The frantic 911 calls immediately alerted Beaver County Regional Police to Harris’s presence on the 300 block of Merchant Street, and they promptly informed Ambridge police. As an officer approached the suspect, Harris menacingly pointed his weapon.
Bishop Kenneth Crumb of Greater Dominion Church later spoke to WTAE, revealing the chilling possibility that Harris might have succeeded in entering the church had he arrived just one hour later for his Sunday Service. “There is a whole lot of mass murders going on, there are shootings,” Crumb emphasized, “particularly in the African American community, people targeting our communities.”
He added that this incident serves as a grim reminder of America’s deeply rooted history of racism and the ongoing racially charged attacks against African Americans, even within the confines of their places of worship.
The horrifying episode at Greater Dominion Church evokes memories of a painful past, with the killing of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, just one of many attacks targeting predominantly Black churches in the United States. Tragically, several past cases involved the burning of churches by Ku Klux Klan members, highlighting the persistence of racial hatred in some parts of the country.
Among these horrific incidents was the burning of the Macedonia Church of God in Christ in Springfield, Massachusetts, shortly after the election of President Obama in November 2008. In Knoxville, Tennessee, in January 1996, a fire destroyed the Inner-City Baptist Church, which had racial slurs painted on its walls. Similarly, in February 1996, a group of churches within a six-mile radius in Louisiana were set ablaze on the anniversary of the sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina.
On June 21, 1995, four former Ku Klux Klan members set the Macedonia Baptist Church on fire in Manning, South Carolina. The fire was one of many that plagued predominantly Black churches across the South during that period, and Macedonia Baptist was awarded $37.8 million in a decision against the Klan. A jury believed that the Klan’s rhetoric had motivated the men to commit this heinous act.
This week, U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Pa., wrote to the Department of Justice, asking for a federal investigation into the event to see whether Harris had violated any civil rights laws and, if it was determined he committed federal crimes, to pursue him to the maximum degree possible, according to a press release. “With hate crimes on the rise across the country, including against Black Americans, it is understandable that any community would be concerned by an armed individual terrorizing a place of worship,” Deluzio wrote to the federal authorities. “A community not too far away from the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Greater Dominion congregation knows too well the harm that an armed individual filled with hate can do.”
Stacy M. Brown is the NNPA Newswire national senior correspondent.