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Thursday, September 16, 1999 Published at 06:50 GMT 07:50 UK

World: Americas

Teenagers die in US church shooting

Seven people were killed and another seven injured

A gunman has opened fire in a church filled with young people in the US state of Texas, killing seven people including three teenagers, before shooting himself dead.

The BBC's Gavin Hewitt: "The motive remains a mystery"
Six of the victims died in the church, one died later from bullet wounds in hospital. Seven more were injured, four of them critically.

The man, dressed in black and smoking a cigarette, fired indiscriminately at worshippers inside Wedgewood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, before firing on police.

A young woman who witnessed the shooting describes the scene: "He just started shooting everybody"
Officers returned fire and the gunman then shot himself in the head, a police spokeswoman said.

The shooting happened at about 1900 local time (0000 GMT) during a rally attended by hundreds of young people at Wedgewood Baptist Church, in Fort Worth, about 30 miles west of Dallas.

Witnesses said that when the gunman entered the church, a number of the congregation thought it was part of a play.

Gunman calm

[ image:  ]
Eyewitness Christy Martin, 17, said: "He was very calm, and looked normal and was smoking a cigarette. I saw him point the gun and shoot. He just kept shooting and that's when I ran."

Chris Applegate, who was in choir practice when the gunman came into the room, said: "We were singing a song and then in the middle of the song this guy opened the door and fired one shot.

"He just kept telling us to stay still. I was wondering whether it was real or not."

Before the police arrived the gunman had reloaded several times while the congregation ran and tried to hide under pews.

Some witnesses said he also threw a pipe bomb inside the church.

The BBC's Andrew Roy: "Witnesses say he took careful aim before opening fire."
Police said they did not know of a motive for the violence but witnesses said the gunman started conversations with some congregation, challenging them about their religious beliefs and was using obscenities and cursing Jesus Christ before he opened fire.

Bodies left inside

Police sealed off the area as technicians searched for evidence.

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  • The six victims and the body of the gunman were left inside the church.

    Just after the shooting a pipe bomb exploded on a balcony inside the building, reports say, but police did not know of any injuries.

    A bomb squad was inspecting several suspicious packages found at the church, Lt David Ellis of the Fort Worth Police Department said.

    Police feared the gunman had wired himself with explosives, so a robot was sent in to search his body for explosives.

    Spectators were moved back several blocks because of reports that there might be more incendiary devices.

    [ image: Eyewitnesses described scenes of panic inside the church]
    Eyewitnesses described scenes of panic inside the church
    Outside the church, the 300 teenagers who had gathered for the rally cried and hugged each other as worried parents and friend rushed to the scene.

    The gunman, who has not been identified, was believed to be in his 20s or 30s, and according to Lt Ellis was using a large-calibre handgun that appeared to be automatic.

    Texas Governor George W Bush said in a statement: "This is a terrible tragedy made worse by the fact that it took place in a house of hope and love.

    "My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the congregation."

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