Why did Emanuel K. Samson want to kill at least 10 white people when he went on a rampage at a Tennessee church in 2017? According to prosecutors, he wanted revenge for the 2015 church shooting in which white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black people at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. From the Tennessean:
During opening statements in the trial against Samson, Deputy District Attorney Amy Hunter said he left a note on the dashboard of his vehicle explaining his plans to retaliate for a 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, when white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine black worshipers.
The note said “Dylann Roof is less than nothing,” and referenced “the blood that 10 of your kind will shed … in terms of vengeance,” according to portions Hunter read out loud in court.
The end of the note was written in much larger letters. It read, “1 Up Bitch.” In other words, Samson wanted to be one up on Roof’s murder tally.
Samson might have succeeded if not for a man who was there that day named Caleb Engle. Engle was a regular attendee at the church who became a genuine hero. He got into a scuffle with Samson during which he was pistol-whipped in the head. According to reports from 2017, Engle engaged Samson again and Samson accidentally shot himself during the struggle. (See Engle’s testimony below.)
However, today in court Samson’s defense attorney, Jennifer Thompson, painted a very different picture. She claimed her client wanted to commit suicide and claimed he was trying to kill himself during the fight with Engle:
“What this case is about is about a man who was very sad, very suicidal,” she said. “He wanted to die.”
Thompson said the fact that Samson shot indiscriminately, and didn’t take advantage of multiple opportunities to kill additional victims, supported her argument that he was not focused on hurting others.
Thompson did not dispute the fact that Engle was a “hero” for tackling Samson in the midst of the shooting. She said Samson shot himself after Engle tackled him in an effort to kill himself.
It’s not unusual for mass shooters to be suicidal and to try to take their own lives the moment they are opposed, usually by police. That’s what Adam Lanza did when police finally entered the building in Newtown. Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, killed himself after firing more than 500 rounds at a music festival. Seung-Hui Cho committed suicide as police breached the building where he was located at Virginia Tech. Devin Patrick Kelley, who carried out the Sutherland Springs church shooting in 2017, was wounded and shot himself in the head rather than be captured by police.
In this case, it was Caleb Engle who opposed the shooter. Maybe Samson did try to kill himself at that point but if so, that’s par for the course for this type of mass killer. Either way, Samson was there to harm people. One woman did die and seven others were injured. If not for Engle’s intervention, there’s every reason to think this would have been much worse.
Here’s Caleb Engle’s testimony about confronting the shooter. The second time he stood up to Samson he says Samson pointed the gun at him and he reacted by shoving his hand out and heard the gun go off. “We stood there for what seemed like an eternity,” Engle said. He continued, “I looked down at myself and I looked up at him and then he fell down to the floor.”
Engle’s father then got up and asked if he was shot. When Engle said no, his father told him to go out to his truck and get his gun. He returned with the gun, put his foot on Samson back and told him, “I have a 45 caliber with hollow points loaded pointed right at you. You move, I would shoot.” Moments later police arrived.