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‘Moved by the message,’ a man tried to kill his father during altar call in a Kentucky church

Bowling Green Police Sgt. Shawn Helbig walks to his vehicle after the stabbing Sunday at Hillvue Heights Church. (Miranda Pederson/Bowling Green Daily News via AP)
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The violence began right after the church’s altar call, when people who want to make a spiritual commitment step forward and publicly offer themselves to God.

Instead, Ethan Buckley pulled out his pocket knife, turned to his father and stabbed the older man over and over again.

He later told a detective he had been having thoughts of killing his father, David Buckley, and wanted to cut his “jugular vein so it would be painless,” according to a police report obtained by The Washington Post.

Witnesses told ABC affiliate WBKO that the older man was stabbed “multiple times on different areas of his body.”

As 21-year-old Ethan Buckley tried to kill his father, shocked attendees of the 9:30 a.m. service at Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, Ky., sprang into action.

“A lot of people that were around the immediate area helped subdue him,” police spokesman Ronnie Ward told The Post. “The associate pastor is one of those people.”

According to a police report:

Ethan stated he was at Church with his father, David, when he was moved by the message. He stated he had thoughts of “killing” his father and stabbed his father in the neck using his pocket knife. Ethan stated he stabbed David in the neck in an attempt to cut David’s “jugular” vein so it would be painless. Ethan admitted to the stabbing and advised his intent was to kill his father.

Ethan Buckley was charged with first-degree assault-domestic violence and booked into the Warren County Regional Jail. On Monday, a judge set his bail at $500,000 and ordered that a public defender be appointed for him.

His father was flown to Vanderbilt University Hospital, where he was being treated, Ward said. His condition was unknown.

Brent Duvall told the Bowling Green Daily News that he was at the altar when the disturbance took place just behind him.

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“I was praying at the altar when I heard a commotion,” he told the newspaper. “I thought it was someone going into cardiac arrest or a seizure. I found out it wasn’t that.”

“He was being very combative,” Duvall said.

Alicia Bell was sitting in one of the side rows of the sanctuary, according to the Bowling Green Daily News.

“It’s scary, but in today’s society this can happen anywhere. I felt like the Lord was protecting us,” she told the newspaper on Sunday.” I’m glad that my family and I are okay, and I’m praying for anybody that was hurt.”

A woman who answered the phone at the church said Hillvue Heights leaders had no comment. Pastor Mark Hale didn’t return messages left at his church office or at his home.

Sunday’s stabbing was reminiscent of a fatal shooting at a Pennsylvania Church in April. That shooting, which happened as congregants were singing hymns, came after an argument escalated at the Keystone Fellowship Church near Philadelphia.

As The Post’s Elahe Izadi wrote at the time:

Congregants described the terrifying atmosphere as gunfire erupted inside the church. Breeana Somers told NBC 10 that “it sounded like three pops, almost like a champagne bottle opening three times.”
But those inside for the service knew something was amiss, she said.
“Everybody’s trying to make themselves as small as possible,” Somers told the station. “You could hear some screaming and some crying, but it was pretty silent.”
She continued: “I went under a chair in a fetal position. I tried to make myself as small as possible. It’s really frightening that anything like this could happen here.”

There have been at least 1,198 “deadly force” incidents and 626 violent deaths in U.S. houses of worship since 1999 according to Carl Chinn, who runs what is considered to be the most extensive database on such violence.

Chinn’s statistics, compiled by searching Google for news, show that “more deadly force incidents have occurred in Baptist churches during that time frame than in churches of any other denomination,” according to the Baptist Press.

“Church is just an extension of society,” Chinn told The Post. “For years, we have held onto an illusion that nothing bad will happen to us in a sanctuary, because there’s a cross at the top and the name of a denomination over the door.  Your chances of getting hurt in a church, or a faith based organization really are not that much worse than getting hurt at any place else.”

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