SELMA, Ala. (AP) — A man who allegedly walked into church and sat down in the front pew before pulling out a gun and opening fire on his estranged girlfriend and infant son aimed directly at the woman's head, a minister wounded in the shooting said Monday.
Pastor Bob Carswell, 61, spoke with reporters outside a hearing for James Junior Minter, 26, who was charged with three counts of attempted murder in a shooting that occurred Sunday at Oasis Tabernacle Church, which Carswell leads with his 81-year-old father, Earl Carswell.
Carswell said he was at the front of the church preparing to begin a Bible lesson when Minter walked in looking "jittery" and went straight to the front pew, where he sat down by his estranged girlfriend and their 1-month-old son.
Suddenly Minter stood up, jumped back, pulled out a gun and fired three times, Carswell said.
"He was point-blank shooting at her head," said Carswell.
With the woman's mother yelling "Jesus, Jesus," said Carswell who was shot in the leg as he and church members jumped on the man while he was still shooting.
"Her daddy was hollering at him to stop," said Carswell. "I was straining with everything in me to get the gun."
The woman — whose name has not been released — survived but was hospitalized with a head wound. Several of the baby's fingers were shot off, authorities said.
Aside from suffering a grazing wound to a leg, Carswell also was bitten in the right arm during the struggle.
A prosecutor said the pastor and church members prevented bloodshed that could have been far worse.
"If not for the quick thinking and intervention of the pastor and the other members of the congregation it could have been a massacre in the church," said District Attorney Michael Jackson.
A judge set bond at $3 million for Minter, whose mother, Rutha Minter, stood beside him briefly in court during an appearance Monday.
Later, outside court, the woman said the shooting was out of character for her son.
"He's a good boy. He works very hard," said Minter.
Minter was arrested at least once before. Court records show he was charged with misdemeanor menacing after he was accused as part of a group of three men who stopped James Campbell, 19, while he walked through a neighborhood in Selma on Oct. 15, 2010.
Campbell said in a statement to police that one man held a gun on him and punched him in the face while Minter and another man also held guns on him. No charges were filed until Campbell told police about the incident seven months later, and the case was dismissed without prosecution on June 30, 2011.
Court records do not indicate why prosecutors threw out the case.
Earl Carswell said the woman had been trying to distance herself from Minter by moving out of Selma to live with her parents, who have a home several miles out of town.
Bob Carswell said the woman has attended the church with her family for about a year, but Minter hadn't been to worship before.
"I'll tell you the truth: I forgive him, but he doesn't need to be out on the street," the pastor said.