A parishioner at a Melbourne, Florida, house of worship allegedly tried to hold the church up with a gun and a knife on Sunday morning, but he was foiled after the pastor and his son fought him off.
During a sermon at The Door Christian Fellowship, John Grace, 21, who attends the church along with his parents, allegedly removed what turned out to be a BB gun from a shopping bag and demanded money. Grace then put the gun to the head of the pastor’s 76-year-old mother, Virginia Mary Snodgrass, and ordered everyone to the floor while repeatedly saying, “Do you think I’m joking?” the pastor, Les Snodgrass, tells PEOPLE.
Les says he had been preaching about the value of human life when Grace allegedly pulled his gun, setting off a wild two-minute sequence, which was recorded on an audio system the church uses to record its sermons.
“I tried to divert attention away from my mother and saying, ‘Johnny, what’s wrong? Johnny, speak to me,’ ” Les says.
Les says Grace then removed cable ties and asked the pastor’s wife, Marie Snodgrass, to tie up the seven other parishioners in attendance. However, Marie did not comply with the request, telling PEOPLE, “I wasn’t going to cooperate. My husband said, ‘Never cooperate with a criminal.’ ”
Les then slowly approached Grace, trying to soothe him, but Grace responded by pulling out what Les describes as an “8- to 10-inch butcher knife … He’s still got the gun in one hand and the knife in the other.”
A Family Affair
At that point, Les sprang into action, rushing Grace and pushing him into a wall. The pastor’s 18-year-old son, Darius Snodgrass, then raced over and punched Grace twice in the face and head, causing him to drop his knife and enabling Les to snatch away his gun – which, they later discovered, was actually a BB gun.
“I don’t remember making a conscious decision to jump up and protect my dad,” Darius tells PEOPLE. “I just remember flying across the room. The next thing I know I was punching him in the face.”
Father and son stood watch over Grace until police arrived. Cops had been called by a motorist who was flagged down by Les’ 23-year-old daughter, Kaylee Snodgrass. Kaylee rushed out of the church for help while her father and brother fought off Grace, making the entire heroic episode a family affair.
The family said that the week before Grace was in church, he showed up in a heavy coat, which the family noted as peculiar because it’s the summer in Florida.
“I just felt bad for him,” Marie says. “He kept telling me and my husband that ‘I know you hate me.’ I told him, ‘No, Johnny, we don’t hate you.’ I told him, ‘I feel bad for you and I’m disappointed that you did this, that you would think it was okay to put a gun to a 76-year-old woman’s head.’ ”
Melbourne police, who corroborated Les’ account of the incident, tell PEOPLE that Grace remains in jail, held without bond for robbery with a deadly weapon, assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment.
In the wake of the incident, Les promises to always carry a gun in church.
“We will be armed for our future services,” he says. “I want people in church, pastors, to realize you’ve got to be ready to protect your flock, your family. It’s just the world we live in today.”
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