Updated at 7:40 p.m. ET: Minutes after Pastor Kenneth Samuel finished a eulogy about how life is fleeting, shots broke out in the church parking lot. Two people were confirmed dead; their identities were not released. Two or three others were injured, police told msnbc.com, although it was unclear whether those wounded were shot.
About 500 people had come to Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., on Thursday afternoon for the funeral of Ryan Guider, 19, of Decatur, who was killed May 26.
As they filed out, Samuel went to his office to change his shirt before heading to the burial site. Minutes later, the area erupted into chaos.
“The first thing I thought to myself was, ‘My God, was anybody listening to what I was trying to say?’” Samuel said. “I think many people were. Unfortunately, not enough. The police told me even the shooter might have been in the service.”
DeKalb County spokeswoman Mekka Parish said police were trying to figure out what prompted the shooting.
"With hundreds of people there it quickly became a chaotic scene," she said.
Police initially believed that Marcus D. Ventress, who is suspected of killing Guider, was among the dead. Ventress allegedly killed Guider in retaliation for punching Ventress's mother during a home invasion. It has been confirmed that he was not among the dead, and it is unclear whether he was at the funeral, Parish said.
U.S. Marshals and DeKalb County Sheriff’s Deputies had been looking for Ventress in connection with Guider’s death. They told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Ventress is also suspected of shooting into an apartment, looking for Guider.
Five or six people are at the DeKalb County Sheriff headquarters for questioning, Parish said.
"Something of this nature is not a common occurrence," Parish said. Top police officials met with the pastor of the church and planned to hold a forum to discuss the violence, she said.
"These are individuals who know each other, but it appears to be spilling out into a public forum," she said. "This is not a situation of individuals firing in the crowd."
Pastor Samuel, who founded the church 25 years ago, said other members of his congregation have lost their sons to violence. But a shooting after a funeral left him stunned and saddened.
“We’re at the point now where the sanctity of the gathering means nothing to people,” he said.
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