By MARGIE NETZEL - firstname.lastname@example.org
ASHTABULA — Children screamed in terror and hid under the pews at Hiawatha Church of God in Christ on Sunday, witnesses said, as an Ashtabula man was shot and killed by his son just after the Easter service.
Richard Riddle, 52, was leaving the church on Hiawatha Street with his wife at about 1 p.m. when his son, 25-year-old Reshad Riddle, approached him and fired a single round from a handgun, instantly killing Richard, church associate pastor Sean Adams said.
About 150 parishioners were leaving the church in recessional. They ducked down at the sound of the gunshot, pushing their children and grandchildren under the pews as Reshad Riddle entered the church, still carrying the gun and yelling that the shooting was “the will of Allah. This is the will of God,” Adams said.
“It was terrifying,” Adams said. “The children were screaming and people were dialing 911. We were afraid to breathe.”
Reshad Riddle was quickly subdued by officers, who arrived just moments after the shooting, Adams said.
Ashtabula Police Chief Robert Stell said dispatchers received multiple calls from inside the church and immediately called law enforcement mutual aid from every available agency to the scene.
“The initial call we received was more along the lines of a mass shooting,” he said. “We knew that shots were fired in the church and we thought there were multiple people down. We called other agencies to assist because it was described as a mass shooting and we weren’t sure if there were multiple shooters or multiple people wounded.”
“It is always better to be safe than sorry,” Stell said, “and we got a great response. Many agencies — easily six agencies — came to assist.”
County Coroner Pamela Lancaster said Richard Riddle’s wound was “immediately fatal.”
“I know there was one gunshot wound, but I did not do any further investigation,” she said. “I did all the investigation I could do under the circumstances at the scene. There were many churchgoers there, so a tent and drapes were set up around the victim to ensure privacy. We did our best to shelter the situation and get (Richard Riddle’s body) in the transport van quickly.”
Richard Riddle’s body will be transferred to the Cuyahoga County coroner for autopsy, Lancaster said.
Stell said Reshad Riddle has offered no motive for the shooting.
“Witnesses at the scene said the shooter entered church and made some references to Allah, but we are not sure if that was a motive or if there was a family problem, Stell said. “We have no motive confirmed with family members. There is no indication that the father and son had a bad relationship. Everyone thinks this was very surprising.”
Stell said Reshad Riddle was easily subdued at the scene and has, with some exceptions, been cooperative with officers. Stell said Reshad Riddle did not appear to be intoxicated.
Church associate pastor Steve Sargent said he was just entering the church as the shooting occurred.
“My mind went into overdrive,” he said. “I pulled several people into the bathroom, as many people as I could, and then I ducked under the baptismal.”
Sargent said while the church is at Hiawatha Street and Station Avenue — a notoriously crime-heavy part of town — the church is a sanctuary of peace for the community.
“I’ve been at this church all my life,” he said, “and I can’t ever recall an incident of theft. We have no fences here to keep anyone out. People can say what they want about this neighborhood, but the people have always been very receptive and respectful of this church and the work we do here.”
Adams said he is especially concerned for the children who witnessed the shooting or were held in the church as they feared for their lives.
“We will be bringing in counselors and people to talk to them about what happened, to ease their fears and give them comfort with what they witnessed,” he said. “I can’t imagine how you explain such a thing to a child — that they went to church on Easter with their families and this happened.”