A man and his wife sustained non-lethal injuries after a gun accidentally went off at a Tennessee church during a discussion about weapons in places of worship in light of recent mass shootings.
The incident happened on Thursday afternoon as a Bible-study group decided to discuss the issue of gun safety in church during a pre-Thanksgiving lunch at the First United Methodist Church in the town of Tellico Plains.
During the discussion, an 81-year-old church member had pulled out his .38-caliber Ruger handgun, removed the magazine, and cleared the chamber before showing it to other parishioners. When he took the weapon back, he restored the magazine and put it back into his holster, according to Tellico Plains Police Chief Russ Parks.
After the discussion, a church member who had missed the demonstration approached the gun owner and asked to see his weapon. Just as he was pulling his gun back out of his pocket, the gun owner accidentally hit the trigger, firing one round.
The bullet hit the gun owner in his right hand before it struck his 81-year-old wife, who was sitting in a wheelchair next to him. It went through his wife's abdomen, exited through her right forearm and ricocheted off the wall before landing by her wheelchair.
Panic overcame church members who were unaware of the second demonstration, with some assuming that a gunman had entered the church.
"They had their backs to it. Somebody hollers, 'He's been shot! She's been shot! Call 911!' So someone grabs their cellphone and calls 911, and says we've had somebody shot at church," Parks said, according to Herald Courier.
Due to the confusion, the 911 dispatcher had reportedly assumed that there was a mass shooting. As a result, a local hospital and several schools were placed under a lockdown, but it was immediately lifted after police realized that someone had accidentally discharged a handgun.
Parks noted that the husband and wife had been flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in critical condition, but their conditions have been stabilized as of Thursday evening.
The police said that no one else was injured and no one had been charged. "This was an accident. It was not intentional. It just slipped his mind that he recharged the weapon," Parks told ABC News, noting that the man was carrying the gun legally.
"We are currently working on a program now for our local citizens on weapon safety. Sometimes we don't get enough of that for the general public," he added.