HALL COUNTY, Ga. — A 16-year-old girl has been arrested after police said she planned to kill people at a predominantly black church in Hall County.
The teen, who is white, planned to attack the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to Gainesville police.
“Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said. “The church was immediately notified of the incident by Gainesville police to ensure the safety of our community, and the current threat was under control.”
Church leaders told Channel 2 Action News they believed the 16-year-old idolized Dylann Roof, the shooter who targeted a black church in South Carolina and killed nine people.
"We are thankful to God that this plot was stopped before anybody was either killed or injured. It is even more troubling a 16-year-old girl idolized Dylann Roof, who carried out the massacre at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina," Bishop Reginald Jackson said.
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Parrish told Channel 2's Tony Thomas the 16-year-old took substantial steps toward carrying out her attack. He said she collected knives, scoped out the church and attempted to get inside at least once.
“By the grace of God and by divine intervention, at the time she went to the church there was nobody there, and they weren't having church at the time," Parrish said.
The police chief said he’s not sure why the teen chose Bethel AME, except that it’s a predominantly black church.
“We do think she was somewhat motivated by her research on the internet. She may have been radicalized that way," he said.
Police said they were able to stop the attack after the girl mentioned her plans to her fellow Gainesville High School students.
Students told school administrators that the girl had a notebook containing "detailed plans to commit murder." Administrators notified school resource officers of the plan on Friday and opened an investigation.
They verified the threat and turned the investigation over to Gainesville police.
Parrish said the teen's parents have been cooperative with the investigation. The teen's name has not been released.
“This is an active investigation and a prime example of how strong relationships between the student body, school administration and law enforcement can intercept a potentially horrific incident,” Parrish said.
The teen was charged as a juvenile with criminal attempt to commit murder and taken to the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center.
Shana Ramsey is a trustee at the church. She told Channel 2's Christian Jennings that the whole thing was disturbing to her.
“It’s scary what could have probably happened,” Ramsey said. “She went to great lengths to plan it, to get weapons and launch her attack on the church. By the grace of God and divine intervention, there was no one there."
Jackson said all 500 AME churches in Georgia under his leadership will look at security measures. He also said he wants the state to pass hate crimes legislation.
Georgia is one of just four states in the country without one.
"The AME church doesn't want this to go quietly. We want this young lady charged as an adult," Jackson said.
State Rep. Chuck Efstration agrees and said this incident is another example of why Georgia needs a hate crime law on the books.
Efstration said he hopes to change that when the new legislative session begins in 2020.
“If a person is targeted because of their race or religion, law enforcement should be able to recognize and prosecute that person for the attack on all of society that these crimes reflect,” Efstration said. “It ought to bother us that, in the state of Georgia, this young girl, young woman, cannot be charged with a hate crime.”
Cox Media Group