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'It is important to come together' | Gainesville AME church returns following foiled attack

During the first service after police caught a teen accused of plotting the murders of church members, leaders said they want to make what would be evil turn to good

GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Members of a Gainesville African Methodist Episcopal church were back in their sanctuary on Sunday morning -- days after local authorities arrested a 16-year-old girl who was accused of crafting a plot to kill members of that church.

Authorities reportedly told church leaders that she admired Dylan Roof -- the convicted killer of nine parishioners who were gunned down during a Bible study at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., four years ago.

The service was attended by a mix of the church's regular members, different faith leaders, national AME church officials and concerned community members -- all rallying together to offer support to the congregation.

"It's not just about Bethel," said Rev. Dr. Michelle Rizer-Pool, pastor of Bethel AME. "It's in the House of Worship all around the world that things are happening. It's important to come together."

RELATED: Gainesville's Bethel AME holds first church service after teen's planned attack was uncovered

Rizer-Pool says the support has been overwhelming. Her message to her congregation was to not be fearful.

She also expressed how she's felt over the past week.

"I've been, of course, in and out of emotions," she said.

As of now, police said the 16-year-old girl accused of planning to attack Bethel AME is being charged as a juvenile and remains in custody.

"Bethel made what was meant for evil turn out for good," said Bishop Reginald Jackson of the AME's Sixth Episcopal District.

Meanwhile, national AME officials are pushing for the teen to be charged as an adult. They plan to hold a rally in January at the Georgia State Capitol.

RELATED: Girl planning attack on Gainesville church idolized Charleston shooter, bishop says

They want to continue to place pressure on state lawmakers to pass a hate crime law.

Georgia is one of only four states in the nation without some sort of hate crime statute on the books.

This past week, AME churches in metro Atlanta have put an emphasis on security.

Rev. Pool says the church purchased new security cameras. On Sunday, a police officer was parked outside the sanctuary.

RELATED: Police: Teen had plan to attack metro Atlanta church, murder 'multiple' people

As a military veteran, Pool said safety has always, and will continue to be, second nature to her.

"I have to stand tall and be strong to say God is with me," she said.

AME church leaders are asking all religious groups to continue to step up security.

As for the teen charged in this alleged planned attack, police have not released her identity because she is a juvenile. 


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