Louisville residents are still reeling from the shooting at a Jeffersontown Kroger on Wednesday which left two people dead.
The victims — 69-year-old Maurice Stallard and 67-year-old Vickie Jones — were both African-American; the accused shooter was 51-year-old Gregory Bush, who is white. Bush’s criminal record dates back nearly two decades and includes charges of domestic violence, terroristic threatening, menacing and assault. He also has a history of making racist comments, but officials have not yet determined whether the shooting was officially a hate crime.
Even so, some members of Louisville’s black community feel strongly that the shooting was racially-motivated.
Jeffersontown Police say the gunman walked into the Kroger and first shot Stallard, who was reportedly shopping for school supplies with his 12-year-old nephew. Bush then walked outside, shooting and killing Jones in the parking lot.
But before Bush walked into the Kroger, he tried to get into the predominantly black First Baptist Church nearby. The doors were locked, in part because church administrator Billy Williams increased security there after the 2015 shooting at historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
That shooting, combined with historical events like the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Alabama decades ago, make Williams think race was a factor in the Kroger shooting, too.
“I would be totally dishonest with myself if I didn’t believe that this was another one of those ongoing instances that this predominantly black church was targeted for some type of action that was not going to be good for this church or this community,” Williams said.
Court records and social media posts suggest the shooter had a history of making racist posts and remarks. He also posted about mental illness, but Kevin Gunn says that doesn’t explain the gunman’s actions. Gunn is the nephew of Vickie Jones, the gunman’s second victim.
“I don’t want to bring race into it, but I have to,” Gunn said. “Had this had been a black assailant on a white person, I don’t think we would’ve been talking about [mental illness].”
Louisville Urban League President Sadiqa Reynolds would agree. Reynolds has been pushing for federal authorities to investigate the incident as a hate crime; on Friday, U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman confirmed that investigation is underway.
But Reynolds said the media’s focus on mental illness is frustrating.
“This ability to humanize white perpetrators is really mind-boggling. And the inability to do that any other time — it is just as frustrating as anything can be,” Reynolds said. “We are sick of that. I am sick of it.”
For Billy Williams, the church administrator at First Baptist, the nearby shooting will change things. He’s rethinking his church’s security, and chokes up as he considers whether his staff could have stopped the shooter.
“This church has been here 185 years. Billy’s just a small timespot on that journey,” Williams said. “But I don’t want to leave here saying that I didn’t do everything I could to keep people safe.”
But he also knows: it could’ve been worse. Williams said classes and study groups were scheduled the day the shooter tried to enter the church. Later that evening, there were about 70 adults and 30 teens and children congregating at the church.
This story has been updated.