On Wednesday Oct. 24, a gunman entered the Kroger grocery store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, and shot dead Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice E. Stallard, two African American shoppers. The gunman, Gregory Bush, who is white, had attempted to enter a predominantly black church right before the shooting, and is said to have made racist remarks during the shooting, leading to the killings being investigated as a hate crime.
The regularly quiet town was reeling after the killings, with Mayor Bill Dieruf defiantly stating that the shooting “will not define us.” Dieruf went on to say that “We are kindred spirits no matter our walk of life or how we worship or what we look like. We take pride in that,” as well as extending his thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims.
The gunman had attempted to enter the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown nearby, failing to gain entrance as the doors were locked. The church leader, Billy Williams, said he was thankful that only a small amount of people were present since the church service had ended an hour before, and that the security they had in place was effective.
An armed bystander confronted Bush, and shot at him as he attempted to flee the scene. CNN reports that the police are also looking into accounts that the gunman said “Whites don’t shoot whites,” or “Whites don’t kill whites” to another bystander who was in his way.
If those comments prove true, along with Bush’s attempts to get into a primarily black church, the prosecutors office would have sufficient evidence that the shooting was racially-motivated. A spokeswoman for police, Chief Sam Rogers, confirmed that his office agrees with hate crime charges and that the shooting “appears to be motivated by hate.” The office also made it clear that the hate crime charges would be federal charges, which would be seperate from Kentucky state charges. Mayor Dieruf echoed this assessment of the killings.
The attempts to gain entrance into a predominantly black church are reminiscent of the attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015, where Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, murdered nine people after praying with them. Roof, a white domestic terrorist, picked the church as the congregation was majority-black, and he had hopes of starting a race war. All nine of his victims were black.
Bush is said to not have had any personal connections to his victims, leading to the assumption that the killings were not personally targeted, but because of his attempts to get into the church, motivated by racial hatred.
Bush also has a history of domestic violence, and had been previously banned from possessing a firearm after a domestic incident. This is not surprising, as there is a connection between domestic abusers and mass-murderers, though the incident does not qualify as a mass-murder, which is generally defined by the FBI as an incident in which three or more people are killed. Still, the link between domestic abuse and propensity to commit acts of murder are ever present, with “Everytown for Gun Safety” enumerating the fact that 54% of mass shootings between 2009-2016 were related to domestic or family violence.
Police Chief Rogers also stated that Bush had a history of mental illness. This shooting came two days before a man opened fire in a synagogue, shouting anti-Semitic slurs, killing 11 worshipers and injuring 6 others at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, as a result of which the gunman faces hate crime charges as well.