Police almost let church shooter go twice



COLLEGE PARK, Ga. - Channel 2 Action News has uncovered the man arrested for a deadly church shooting tried to turn himself in two times just hours before officers took him into custody.

Floyd Palmer was expected in court Friday morning after changing his mind about facing a judge, but he waived the appearance at the last minute. He's accused of murdering megachurch volunteer Greg McDowell.

Thursday morning McDowell's mom slowly walked away from the Fulton County Jail. She was there to see the man police accused of shooting her son at World Changers Church International as he led prayer.

"From my understanding and from the family's comments and everyone that we've spoken with, Mr. McDowell was a loving person, extremely loving and a saved, God fearing Christian man. And anymore that I could say wouldn't be even justice to him," said Sunshine Lewis from the Fulton County District Attorney's Office.

According to witnesses, Palmer, a former church worker, walked into the chapel of the church and opened fire more than 10 times at McDowell.

Sources tell Channel 2's Ryan Young that after Palmer opened fire, he tried turning himself in to police during the massive manhunt to find him.

Palmer went to one local police agency and tried to get arrested but was turned away. Hours later he drove to Lenox Square in Buckhead.

"When the individual came into the mall, it is my understanding that he approached one of my officers and advised that he heard his name or some information over the radio, television that he may possibly be wanted. The officer immediately checked on the radio to see if he could confirm if he was, or was not wanted," Maj. Van Hobbs of the Atlanta Police Department said.

But the APD officer would not take his eye off the man who said he may be wanted. He had mall security also follow him.

"The officer, thinking something was a little suspicious about someone asking that information, kept tabs on him," Hobs said.

And then police said they got the call they needed.

"And he was taken into custody without incident," Hobbs said.

Suspect previously charged in Baltimore mosque shooting

Within hours of the shooting at the college park mega church Channel 2's Action News sources told about a shooting in Palmer's past.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant learned Palmer was charged with shooting another man outside the Muhammad Mosque in Baltimore, Md. in 2001.

An incident report obtained by Diamant confirms Palmer was one of four men working security for a weekly women's meeting at the mosque in June, 2001, when witnesses said Palmer followed one of the men, Reuben Mohamed, to a nearby Walgreens parking lot and shot him in the back.

Diamant talked to Mohamed by phone late Thursday afternoon.

"I couldn't get up. I tried to get up, but I couldn't get up, and then I felt my legs, my legs go out. The felt like they melted into the ground, so I knew I was paralyzed," Mohamed said.

Mohamed said he and Palmer had been in an argument for years, but said Palmer opened fire without warning.

Documents show Palmer fired one shot before the gun jammed, then turned the gun on witnesses as he attempted to reload.

Had the gun not jammed again, Mohamed said, "I wouldn't be here. I guess I would be here. With grace of God, you know."

Police arrested Palmer in a nearby alley. Maryland Circuit Court records show Palmer was charged with attempted murder, but pleaded guilty to lesser assault and gun charges. The court found Palmer "not criminally responsible."

Palmer spent more than a year in the custody of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He was released in 2006.

Mohamed said he has since regained some movement in his legs, but still uses crutches and is very weak.

Diamant also left messages for the prosecutor who tried the case and Palmer's lawyer in Baltimore, but so far has not heard back.

Friends remember victim as 'always smiling'

Channel 2's Sophia Choi went back to the victim's Union City neighborhood Thursday to learn more about Greg McDowell.

All day Choi watched as cars came and went from his house as family and friends gathered to remember the man so many people loved so much. They told her McDowell was just a nice guy who always had a smile.

McDowell was just 39-years-old. He was a husband raising two boys and a model dad, according to church leaders and neighbors.

"I just always seen him out there with his kids. They're always washing a car or doing something, but very productive family," neighbor Gary Smith said. "Kind of just everybody in shock."

McDowell was described as a dedicated church volunteer.

It's a loss for so many, including his nearly 850 Facebook friends.

Thursday, Choi found some of them changing their profile pictures to his in honor of the man many remember for his good nature, including those who worked with him at the church.

"Man, he was just always full of life," former church co-worker Victor Owusu said. "He was actually like my manager, back when I used to work here. It's almost like, like losing a brother."

It's really devastating because all you can remember about him is his smile. Always smiling," former church worker Donisha Wilson said.

Choi tried to talk with those closest to McDowell, his immediate family inside his Union City home.

But a family spokesperson said they just weren't ready. And neither was the community, to see the man who loved life so much, face death so quickly.

"It's like a big shock. It's like what happened is not even real," Owusu said.

Choi obtained the incident report from Fulton County police describing the moments just before and after the shooting.

In all, police found 12 bullet casings near the pulpit area where McDowell was leading the prayer, the report said.

U.S. Marshals take Ch. 2 moment by moment

U.S. Marshals walked Channel 2's Shae Rozzi through the manhunt to track down Palmer after Wednesday's church shooting.

From the outside of Palmer's Riverdale apartment you can see boarded up windows where investigators entered overnight.

Marshals first knocked on his door Wednesday afternoon, not knowing at that time if Palmer was on the other side of the door ready to shoot. They only know he has just shot and killed a man at a church.

"You plan for the fugitive to be armed and to take action," U.S. Marshal's Office Chief Inspector Keith Booker told Rozzi.

Booker heads up the Marshal's Fugitive Task Force in Atlanta. He said officers had no idea Palmer had already been involved in another shooting.

"We treat them all the same. If it's a dangerous person and we know he's a dangerous person then there are tactical techniques that we employ and those are the things that we do to keep us safe," Booker said.

In keeping themselves safe, they decided not to bust through the door.

Marshals got the call to help in the search for Palmer from a Fulton County detective who also works on their Violent Fugitive Task Force.

That call came in around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. By 2 p.m. Rozzi and her photographer spotted marshals at Palmer's apartment.

By 3 p.m. they attempted to see if he was inside. Around 3:30 p.m. Atlanta police spotted Palmer's darkened Subaru at Lenox Square in Buckhead.

Marshals then arrived at Lenox to do surveillance in the parking lot. Inside, Atlanta police and other officers arrested Palmer without a struggle.

"It was obviously a terrible, terrible crime and all of the law enforcement community reacts to something like that. Everybody pitched in and everybody was able to contribute something. It was wrapped up in relatively short order," Booker said.

And that's what all the departments and agencies wanted to see: everyone working together to capture a suspect quickly without anyone else getting hurt.