The sermon was just about to begin Sunday morning as Emmanuel Fleming walked up the steps of South Austin’s Friendship Baptist Church accompanied by his three young children.
It was at this West Side church that Fleming sought to turn over a new leaf. He served as an usher here. His children, all under the age of 10, were baptized here. And on Sunday, his life was cut short here.
Around 11:15 a.m., two gunmen wearing bandanas ran toward the broad wooden doors of the church and opened fire in the direction of Fleming and another man, Michael Swift, 46, who was visiting the church, police and witnesses said.
The men attempted to take cover behind a nearby retaining wall as Fleming cried for his children to take cover inside the church, witnesses said.
The children made it to safety, said the Rev. Reginald Bachus. Fleming was taken to Stroger Hospital and Swift was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital. Both were pronounced dead, police said.
“They were on their way up the steps to the church, and two gentlemen ran up from Jackson (Boulevard) and basically unloaded on them,” Bachus said.
“It’s just hard for me to believe that something like this could happen on a Sunday morning,” he added. “Two young men on their way to church. … I think that’s the hardest part for me to grasp.”
The shooting turned what had been a morning of prayer and worship at the church into a day of heartache and disbelief.
In the moments before the shooting, the congregation of more than 100 people was in the middle of singing a hymn, according to a senior member who said she’s attended the church for 40 years and teaches Bible school.
When Fleming’s children burst through the doors, gunfire could be heard only feet away, prompting members, including seniors and children, to drop to the floor as one of Fleming’s children repeatedly cried, “I want my dad!”
“The pastor was just about to get up and we heard about seven shots — bang-bang-bang-bang,” said the church member, who didn’t want to be named because she was concerned for her safety. “Everyone hit the floor, even the kids. It’s a shame the kids know how to hit the floor like that, but it’s a good thing they did.”
Later Sunday, detectives scanned the scene where more than a dozen yellow evidence markers were placed on the sidewalk and stairs leading up to the doors of the church. A Chicago White Sox hat, a white garment, a notepad and blood also marked the scene.
Church member Bruno Carter, of Humboldt Park, who witnessed the ordeal from just outside the church, said two suspects, bandanas across their faces, ran from the gas station across the street, past the bell tower and took aim at the victims.
“The kids were partially in the door, and they heard the gunfire and their father was telling them to get in,” Carter recalled.
As investigators snapped pictures and scrawled notes, Carter and other members struggled to comprehend the brazen act of violence.
“It seems like the more people march and carry signs — and the more churches bind together to say ‘Stop the violence’ — the more they disregard it and just continue to kill,” Carter said.
The two gunmen fled in a silver or gray SUV headed south, officials said. Deputy Chief Al Nagode said the Chicago Police Department is dedicated to finding and arresting those responsible.
“The victims were going to church; two individuals came up and fired their weapons, striking the individuals,” Nagode said.
“We are extremely close with our faith-based organizations over there,” Nagode said. “It certainly is a troubled area, and we dedicate a tremendous amount of resources to it … in an attempt to help the community out in any way we can.”
Bachus said there will likely be a vigil at the church Monday.
Chicago Tribune’s Elyssa Cherney contributed.
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