A man opened fire at a Wisconsin church service Saturday, killing seven members of a congregation that preaches against violence and warns of an “end-times” catastrophe before taking his own life, authorities said. Four others were wounded.
The shootings took place shortly before 1 p.m. CST during the weekly services of a Living Church of God congregation in Brookfield, Wis., a western suburb of Milwaukee. The congregation meets regularly at a Sheraton hotel. The church observes its Sabbath on Saturdays.
Police officers discovered five bodies, including the body of the 45-year-old gunman, inside the brick-walled hotel, said Sherri Stigler, a Brookfield Police communications supervisor. Three others died a short time later at a hospital in nearby Wauwatosa.
Those killed included six males, ages 15, 17, 44, 50, 58 and 72, and a 55-year-old woman, Brookfield Police said. They were not identified. The wounded included a 10-year-old boy listed in stable condition at a nearby children’s hospital.
The congregation had been meeting at the hotel every Saturday for about five years, officials said. The victims were all in the same room at the time of the shooting, said Brookfield Police Chief Daniel Tushaus. One of the victims was believed to be the congregation’s minister.
The gunman was not identified, but he is believed to be a resident of New Berlin, Wis., a town of about 40,000 people that abuts Brookfield to the south, said New Berlin Mayor Ted Wysocki.
The gunman was affiliated with the church, officials said. One witness told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the gunman was attending the service, then stood and began shooting, stopping at least once to reload.
“It shocks and dismays us,” Wysocki said. “It makes no sense. It just makes no sense.”
According to the Living Church of God’s Web site, it is an evangelical organization that believes its duty is to preach the gospel, provide for the spiritual and material needs of members and to warn the world of “end-time prophecies” and a coming “Great Tribulation.”
The church has historically urged its members to remain “separate” from many civic activities – to decline to participate, for instance, in juries or politics. Its members have also historically declared themselves conscientious objectors, refusing to participate in war and preaching against violence.
Members of other Living Church of God congregations said the killings were announced during their services Saturday.
“We were all shaken, naturally,” said Rod Townsend, a deacon of a congregation in North Little Rock, Ark. “We’re scattered all over the Earth. But when one part of the body hurts, the whole body hurts.”