Police exchanged gunfire with the man at Maple Grove Baptist Church in Canton on Wednesday

By Christine Pelisek
Updated August 19, 2015 08:35 PM
Credit: Google Maps

Shots were fired between officers and a gunman at a church in Canton, North Carolina, Wednesday afternoon.

Deputies responded to the Maple Grove Baptist Church after a man called 911 dispatchers shortly after 3 p.m. to report he was holding hostages at the church.

“It was kind of scary,” Bill Miller, the assistant director of emergency management with Haywood County, tells PEOPLE. “He said he had hostages in the church and he was going to take actions against them and hung up. It was a very short and terse conversation.”

The man, who is described as a 40-year-old white male, fired shots at the officers when they arrived at the church. The officers returned gunfire and the man was shot outside the church. No one else was injured.

“There were no hostages and no one was inside the church except for the lone gunman,” says Miller. “He was the only person that was injured.”

The condition of the gunman, who has not been publicly identified yet, is unclear, but he is in police custody.

Miller says it is too early to tell why the man opened fire at police outside the rural church, but says they are looking at all possibilities, including suicide by cop.

“There are many options and angles and that is certainly one that is being looked at,” he says. “We don’t know his mental state or his family situation. You always have to ask yourself why. He has the why and hopefully the investigators will get to that sooner or later.”

Investigators are also trying to determine if the man was a member of the church.

Miller says they are just thankful no church members were there during the shooting.

“They would have got together for Wednesday night bible study and worship service but it wouldn’t have started till 6 o’clock or after,” he says.

The incident comes just two months after the massacre at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which 21-year-old Dylann Roof killed nine worshippers gathered for a mid-week prayer meeting.

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