DeKalb County

Pepper spray released into congregation during sermon at New Birth church

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A search is underway for two men who released pepper spray into a church congregation, sickening dozens of worshippers.

It happened Sunday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia. Pastor Jamal Bryant said he was in the pulpit, unaware of the chaos unfolding in another part of the sanctuary.

"I was 10 minutes into my message and chaos broke out in the sanctuary," Bryant said.

In a Facebook video, the preacher said he first thought someone had fallen ill out of his view, but he later learned what really happened.

"Two men came into our sanctuary, in the middle of the service while I was preaching, and began to release pepper spray. They sprayed it on the ground, till fumes began to come up," Bryant said. "People were running out of the sanctuary. People were gasping. People were crying. People were screaming."


"It's terrible. I saw them walking outside, coughing and all of this stuff," church member CeCe Carr said. "There was, like, a quick exodus out the door. People were just running out."

Paramedics rushed to the church and provided medical aid to 28 worshipers. They transported a 66-year-old woman to a hospital. She was treated and released.

"All is well and for that, I am grateful," Bryant said, stating everyone has recovered. "The enemy was unleashing weapons of mass distraction to come into God's sacred sanctuary and declare war."

The two who set off the pepper spray are described as young men wearing sweatshirts. Police are still looking for them.

There were no security cameras in the area where the men set off the pepper spray.

The church sent Channel 2 Action News the following statement:

"During today's service, we experienced an isolated incident that is currently under investigation by our security team and the DeKalb County Police Department. None of our members were injured, and we thank the local first responders for promptly addressing this matter. We have initiated a full-scale review of our security procedures and protocols, and we will exhaust ourselves to ensure New Birth remains a safe place to worship and fellowship."