Knoxville, TN Community Stands Together One Year After Deadly Hate Attack | Not in Our Town

Knoxville, TN Community Stands Together One Year After Deadly Hate Attack


Supporters gathered with TVUUC members for a group photo before the "Instruments of Peace" anniversary event (Photo Courtesy: Karen Krogh)

 One year ago this week, a man armed with a shotgun and filled with hatred entered Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) while congregants performed the theatre production “Annie.” As Jim Adkisson opened fire on the packed sanctuary, he took the lives of two people and injured six. The unemployed truck driver later confessed to hating liberals and gays.

In the wake of the event that traumatized an entire congregation, the greater community of Knoxville swiftly responded. For the one-year anniversary of the shooting, TVUUC recognized its many supporters and those who “stood on the side of love” by hosting a concert and ice cream social. The theme of the evening was “Instruments of Peace,” and The Working Group’s film crew was there to capture the powerful story of this community’s stand against hate.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, a neighboring church helped evacuate and provide safety to TVUUC members; local leaders were quick to publicly condemn the violence; a group of diverse faith leaders organized a series of interfaith services and memorials; businesses and schools volunteered food and services in the rededication of the sanctuary; and thousands of ordinary citizens sent in letters of love and support. With the community’s help and the strength of individuals within the congregation, TVUUC was able to start on the path of healing.

Rev. Chris Buice, left, with TVUUC's youth contingent

“Today’s concert is our prayer of thank you,” said Reverend Chris Buice to a packed sanctuary July 27, 2009. “We want to say thank you to this community, Knoxville, East Tennessee, and people all over the world who have been supportive of us during the most difficult year in our 60 years of existence as a congregation. We have been fed food, people have brought us water, people have given us quilts to wrap ourselves and feel that East Tennessee comfort. We have been surrounded by love, support and encouragement and we want to say thank you. Last year a man walked into this sanctuary carrying a shotgun and a guitar case. This year the guitar cases contain instruments of peace.”

Guy and Candie Carawan lead congregants and guests in singing "We Shall Overcome" (Photo Courtesy: Karen Krogh)

As the music of local performers filled the sanctuary, congregants displayed a range of emotions: sadness, joy, gratitude and the undeniable love of an open and welcoming community. When legendary folk musicians Guy and Candie Carawan sang their most famous song “We Shall Overcome,” the audience was moved to their feet, joined hands and sang along. Then Rev. Buice and the children’s choir sang a lively and joyful rendition of “Freedom Train,” which led the rest of the congregation and their many guests into the church’s community hall for ice cream.

“This celebration is moving not past the sadness and the sorrow and the loss of life, but helping us to understand how we respond to it,” said Reverend Johnnie William Skinner of the Mount Zion Baptist Church. “We don’t respond in hate, we don’t respond in confusion of chaos, we respond in love and we respond in peace. This [event] is an indication of a lot of people of a lot of different faiths and congregations coming together to show support for this.”

In addition to capturing the anniversary event, our film crew was able to sit down with a number of TVUUC congregants, including several members who prevented Adkisson from committing further violence by tackling him to the ground, and a young congregant who is helping lead a youth ministry of other “Annie” performers. While it was clear that the congregation is still healing, we were so moved by the community’s positive action and TVUUC’s commitment to “Standing on the Side of Love.”


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