ASHTABULA: Panicked witnesses to a fatal Easter service shooting feared many might be killed as the victim’s son approached the pulpit, waving a handgun and yelling about God and Allah.
“Tragic as it is, it could have been so much worse,” the Rev. Steve Sargent, associate pastor of the Hiawatha Church of God in Christ in Ashtabula, said Monday as he pointed out where the gunman moved through the sanctuary.
Michael Wofford, 59, a worshipper who attended Sunday’s service with his wife and two grandchildren, said he feared a shooting rampage after the gunman finished his spiel from the pulpit area.
“Is he going to just walk out of the church or is he going to start shooting people at random?” Wofford asked in the church vestibule. “Sooner or later he’s going to run out of words. It could have been much worse.”
Police say Reshad Riddle, 28, went to the church and killed his father, 53-year-old Richard Riddle, with a single shot from a handgun Sunday afternoon.
The suspect appeared Monday in Ashtabula Municipal Court in an orange jail jumpsuit with his ankles and wrists shackled.
The bearded Riddle made rambling comments about God and said he wanted to be treated fairly. The judge agreed to appoint a public defender.
The prosecutor asked for $1 million bail and, if Riddle makes it, a psychiatric evaluation and 24-hour monitoring.
Ann Riddle, sister of the victim and aunt of the suspect, said later the family knew of no possible motive.
Riddle, receiving friends at the family home, called her brother a loving and caring family member. “He was a devoted family member, he was always there for the family. He cared a lot about people,” said Riddle, who declined to comment on other aspects of the case.
After shooting the victim, the gunman then walked down the side aisle of the church, decorated with lilies for Easter, and sent panicked worshippers crawling over pews, running for the doors and climbing out windows in adjacent rooms.
“He seemed to be like he was deranged. I don’t know if he was on something,” Sargent said while arranging a group counseling session for traumatized church members.
“My suspicion is that he may have been on something, some mind-altering chemical that caused him to act out like he did.”
Associate Pastor Sean Adams told the Ashtabula Star Beacon that Reshad Riddle walked through the church, still holding the gun, and yelled that the killing was “the will of Allah. This is the will of God.”
Officers, who arrived just moments after the shooting, quickly subdued Riddle. They say he has been mostly cooperative.
Ashtabula police Chief Robert Stell said Riddle offered no motive for the shooting.
Court records show Reshad Riddle has an extensive criminal record.
Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court records show he was arrested and charged with two counts of felonious assault, kidnapping, abduction and tampering with evidence in 2006.
Records show that in 2007, Riddle was charged with felonious assault, and in 2009 he was charged with possession of drugs, tampering with evidence and possession of cocaine.
According to police reports, one of the felonious assault charges stemmed from an incident when Riddle allegedly attempted to cut his girlfriend’s throat. Capt. Joseph Cellitti said the woman’s neck had been cut with a knife and she suffered bruising.
Church parishioners said Riddle was a member of the church as a child, but did not attend regularly as an adult.
“No one would have thought twice about him being here with his family on Easter,” Adams said. “His family [has] been members here for years and years.”