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Aurora Church Shooting: Police Say Congregation Was Likely Not The Target In Shooting

By P. SOLOMON BANDA 04/23/12 07:21 PM ET AP

Denver Church Shooting

AURORA, Colo. — A man crashed his car outside a Colorado church and opened fire on people who had come to his aid, fatally wounding the mother of the church's pastor before an off-duty officer attending service shot him dead.

The pastor of Destiny Center Church, Delono Straham, said the woman killed Sunday was his mother, Josephine Echols, a nurse from Flint, Mich., who most recently had been working with dialysis patients at a local hospital. She had gone outside to see if anyone needed medical attention.

Straham said the car crashed as Sunday's service was winding down at the church in Aurora, and a staffer ran out to see if the driver needed help. He said the driver pulled a gun on the worker but it jammed.

Straham said the gunman was able to fix it, moved toward the church and shot his mother near the entrance. She died later at a hospital.

"We're not sure if she diverted his attention and that's why he shot her," Straham said Monday at the church.

Straham said the gunman went to another entrance and started to enter the church. The gunman was shot by his cousin, an off-duty Denver police officer who was attending the service. Aurora police spokesman Frank Fania declined to release the off-duty officer's name.

Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson said the officer has declined all media requests for an interview.

Straham said he doesn't know of any connection between the gunman and the small church, which is tucked away in an office park. The congregation is predominantly African-American, as was the gunman, who appeared to be no older than 25, Straham said. Police said the gunman didn't appear to be targeting the congregation.

The case has baffled police who used orange spray paint to mark off nearly a quarter mile of tire tracks across a busy roadway and the driveway of an office park in Aurora, a suburb of Denver. The tracks indicate erratic driving as the car went over a sidewalk next to a bus stop and hit a retaining wall made of dirt and rocks, knocking out several rocks and leaving them strewn on the street. The tracks then lead into a driveway in an office park, go over a median and continue for hundreds of feet to the area where the church is located.

"We're trying determine the events that happened before the shooting," Fania said.

Stains on the roadway indicate the vehicle was leaking oily substances.

A building next to the church was hit by bullets.

Friends and family described Echols as the mother of the church who helped keep children in line and offered spiritual support to the adults.

"She is a powerful spiritual woman. She loves everybody, talks to everybody. She has a good word about everybody," said friend Venita Johnson.

Echol's daughter, Cynthia Tolbert, said she was always available to volunteer.

Fania said autopsies are scheduled Tuesday, and no other details about the shootings, including names, would be released until then.

In December 2007, Colorado was the site of two shootings at churches. Matthew Murray, 24, killed two staff members at Youth With a Mission training center in a suburb northwest of Denver, before driving about 65 miles south to Colorado Springs. There, he killed two sisters before volunteer security guard and former Minneapolis police officer Jeanne Assam confronted Murray. Authorities say Murray killed himself after being wounded by Assam.

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Filed by Matt Ferner  |