A teenage girl has admitted to planning a stabbing attack on a Black church in the US state of Georgia.
Caitlyn Pye, 17, travelled to the Bethel AME Church in Gainesville on two separate occasions in 2019 with the intent to murder churchgoers at a scheduled Bible study. On both occasions, the studies happened to have been cancelled.
Despite the grave threat she posed to the congregation, leaders of the denomination expressed grace and forgiveness towards the Pye. "While we are angered and frustrated by this incident, we do not hold hostility against this defendant," said Prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of AME Churches Bishop Reginald T. Jackson. "While she apparently hates or hated us, we do not hate her and do not wish to nullify her future and do not give up on her."
Jackon also lamented the fact that AME churches are required to bolster their security. "Rather than being places of worship, study and fellowship, [churches] have now become armed sanctuaries, where we have to have security in order to feel safe," he told the Gainesville Times.
Bethel AME’s pastor, the Rev Michelle Rizer-Pool, said the plot had caused “irreversible harm” to her congregation, adding that numbers of attendees fell dramatically when details of the attempted attack were released.
“There are not enough sermons that I can preach, and the choir cannot sing enough about faith, hope and love to erase these images and fears,” she said.
The plot was uncovered when a teacher at Gainesville High School overheard Pye talking about her plan and alerted the school's principal.
School officials subsequently discovered a notebook in which Pye wrote about hurting people at a Black church, along with a t-shirt which said "Free Dylann Storm Roof" and had swastikas drawn on the sleeves. In June 2015, Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist, shot dead nine congregants at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. Following his state trial, Roof was sentenced to nine consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, while his federal prosecution resulted in a sentence of death by lethal injection.
Appearing in court, Pye apologised to members of the church for the heinous plot. “I am very sorry. I want to let you know it was a mistake,” she said through tears. The teen was sentenced to 10 years probation and will spend the next four years in a juvenile detention facility. She must also have no contact with any AME church in Georgia and is required to stay at least 150 yards away from any AME church.
Pye's mother insisted that her daughter was "not a monster" and had "never been taught hate".
“Her attitude was shaped somewhere by somebody,” Jackson said following the court proceedings. “The mother said she didn’t get it from home, and I generally was moved by her mother. But she got it from somewhere.”