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Authorities Investigate Kentucky Shooting As A Hate Crime

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a shooting in his home state of Kentucky last week was a hate crime. The killings of two black people near Louisville did not receive as much attention as some other crimes. The killings were overshadowed first by the package bombs sent to political leaders and journalists and then by the attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue. Sorrow has crowded out sorrow in recent days. So let's circle back and hear how Kentuckians are responding. Here's Amina Elahi of member station WFPL.

AMINA ELAHI, BYLINE: People packed into the First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown on Sunday to pray, remember and sing.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Let the church say amen...

ELAHI: The Reverend Kevin Nelson was fired up. He called on his congregants to overcome the evil men who recently spewed hate in Pittsburgh and here, near Louisville.

KEVIN NELSON: Some of us are praying for the racism and prejudice to be erased. That's a good prayer, but it's not a reality - because it will continue. It just doesn't have to continue with us.

ELAHI: A few days before, police say 51-year-old Gregory Bush attempted to enter this predominantly black church but was foiled by beefed-up security, including locked doors. So he went to a nearby Kroger grocery store, where he allegedly shot and killed 67-year-old Vickie Jones and 69-year-old Maurice Stallard, who were black. Reverend Nelson blames rhetoric from President Donald Trump that led to the shootings.

NELSON: And the Bible said, if the head is sick, the whole body is sick. So when you got a leader like that, then what does is it lights a fire among those who's been feeling what he has been expressing, and they feel license to do what they do.

ELAHI: Kevin Gunn is the nephew of Vickie Jones. He says she had survived breast cancer only to be gunned down while running errands. This is how he describes his feelings now.

KEVIN GUNN: Hurt. Angry. There's so many emotions. Scared for my family, for anybody because, you know, it's like, you can't even go to the store without worrying. You know? She was just going to the grocery store.

ELAHI: Gunn says the killings were senseless, but he has a larger concern that he pins on the state of political discourse. He says some people are becoming emboldened to strike out with violence against people they disagree with or dislike.

GUNN: There used to be, you know, at the end of the day, if you didn't agree with me and I didn't agree with you, it was OK. Now, not so much.

ELAHI: The alleged shooter has been charged with murder. In recent days, law enforcement say they believe the shootings were a hate crime. For those close to the victims, that was obvious. For NPR News, I'm Amina Elahi in Louisville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.