A Montgomery County (PA) district attorney said a deadly April 24 dispute that began over seating in a Southern Baptist church's sanctuary escalated when a member brandished his badge to carry a firearm.
"When he came over, he had a gun out," stated Kevin Steele, whose office on April 28 announced alongside Montgomery Township Police that Mark T. Storms, 46, would be charged with voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the death of 27-year-old Richard Braxton III.
According to NBC10, court documents state witnesses said Braxton arrived at the church in a foul mood, cursing at an usher before taking a seat that had been reserved for two other church members. When tapped on the shoulder and told the seats were for someone else, Braxton responded with expletives before being calmed down by a pastor and usher, according to the New York Daily News.
What happened next varies according to the 50 witnesses questioned by police. Reports say Storms approached Braxton and asked him to leave while flashing a badge indicating he was legally armed. Again agitated, Braxton cursed Storms and, according to the press release from Steele's office, struck Storms in the face, leading Storms to fire two shots while unaware congregants sang a hymn.
At 11:24 a.m. local police received a call of shots fired at the church, with officers arriving four minutes later to find Braxton suffering from wounds to the chest and arm. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead at 12:11 p.m. His funeral, reported NBC10, will be held at Keystone this Sunday.
Storms had no official role with the church, said Steele. "He was not and has never been a police officer or a member of law enforcement." It appears Storms' license had been bought online.
In Pennsylvania, it is legal to carry guns in churches. A 2014 Georgia law gained national attention for allowing guns in churches – according to each churches' individual discretion on the matter – and prompted the release of a fact sheet for Georgia Baptist churches on the matter. Georgia recognizes gun law reciprocity with Pennsylvania but only in accordance with Georgia law.
Addressing church members, Keystone Pastor John Cope wrote on the church's website, "We wish to thank the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office for its careful and thorough work in processing the evidence pertaining to this case, and we thank our community for the tremendous outpouring of support during this difficult time.
"... In the meantime, we have been focused exclusively on ministering to the hurting, especially the Braxton family. It is the District Attorney’s job to administer justice, and it is our job to help those effected cope with this terrible tragedy. We have been “weeping with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
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