Alabama

He got up in church and talked about his divorce. Then he reached for a gun, Alabama cops say

Athens, Alabama man Thomas Zebulun Lewter was charged with making a terroristic threat after police say he got up in church and began speaking about his pending divorce before trying to pull out a gun and being tackled.
Athens, Alabama man Thomas Zebulun Lewter was charged with making a terroristic threat after police say he got up in church and began speaking about his pending divorce before trying to pull out a gun and being tackled. Limestone County Jail

A group of quick-thinking churchgoers tackled an Alabama man to the ground after he tried to pull a handgun in the building, police said, according to the Decatur Daily.

The man, 34-year-old Thomas Zebulun Lewter, had reportedly gone up to the pulpit of the O'Neal Church of Christ in Athens, Ala., and had begun speaking about his pending divorce when people became uncomfortable, AL.com reported.

A spokesperson for the Limestone County Sheriff's Office told WHNT Lewter "called out" his wife and father-in-law, who were at the service.

"His actions made congregants uneasy, and many of them left the sanctuary while he was speaking," the spokesperson told The News Courier. “Other congregants approached the pulpit and tried to convince Lewter to stop talking and sit down, but he refused and attempted to grab a handgun he had on his person.”

Congregants tackled him to the ground, and no shots were ever fired, WAFF reported. A retired deputy who was in the church handcuffed him until authorities arrived.

Lewter's wife had begun divorce proceedings against him on June 19 based on incompatible temperament, and also said he was abusing alcohol, AL.com reported. She wanted full custody of their two children, the site reported.

Church members didn't want to be interviewed, but told WAFF they were praying for everyone involved.

Police took Lewter to the hospital before taking him to jail, where he was charged with making a terroristic threat, The News Courier reported, and bond was not yet set Monday afternoon.

Church leaders have been struggling with how to protect their congregations after a string of mass shootings over the last several years, including 2017's shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 26 people were killed, and the slaying of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. in 2015.

Some states have considered or clarified laws explicitly allowing guns in churches, and some churches have held active shooter trainings for their congregants.

Active shooter training has evolved for law enforcement in the past few years, and local officers from municipalities in Johnson County gathered to practice with civilian participants at Antioch Church.

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