A clash between street preachers and Tyler Junior College students has led to a police investigation.
What began as a “peaceful” demonstration escalated to students shouting “Hail Satan,” an assault report and a student allegedly pulling a handgun.
Tyler police spokesman Don Martin said the incident escalated when a student allegedly stole a camera from the preachers by a student.
Jesse Morrell said he is a full-time street preacher who has been to more than 100 colleges and universities nationwide to spread his message of the “wages of sin” and how sinners can be saved through Jesus Christ.
Morrell and two others stationed themselves on public property and not on the college campus.
Morrell, who runs the Open Air Outreach Ministries, of Lindale, said he and two other street preachers were at TJC on Thursday to preach their message to the students. Morrell said that as they preached to a crowd, several students disagreed with the message and began to heckle them.
“I expect verbal differences, but I don’t expect to be assaulted and someone pulling a gun on me because they disagree with what I have to say. That is not a reasonable response,” he said.
However, several students in the crowd — including Dianne Hammett, a criminal justice major — said the preachers were spewing words of hate over the course of several hours.
“They told one Jewish girl who asked what would happen to her because she was Jewish that she should have died in the Holocaust,” Mrs. Hammett said. “Yes, he has a right to express himself in free speech, but this was hurtful and hateful, not loving.”
Morrell said his group said Jews who were not followers of Christ would not be saved, but denied saying the woman should have died.
Mrs. Hammett also said the preachers were shouting words of condemnation against a gay couple who stopped to listen to the preachers.
Morrell, who moved to the area after meeting his wife at Teen Mania, said he did preach against homosexuals but added he does not discriminate in preaching against sin.
“We don’t discriminate. We condemn all sin,” he said.
As the preachers continued, Morrell said several students began shouting “Hail Satan,” and other phrases to try to dissuade them from preaching.
Mrs. Hammett said she heard the chants also, adding that some students were displaying signs that read “Hail Satan” and “666.”
“It was really getting bad, and then someone threw water on the preachers,” Mrs. Hammett said. “Then the preacher ran into the crowd after one student, and several of us, including me, were knocked down and battered during the ordeal. It was unholiness.”
Morrell said he chased a student he thought stole his video camera.
“I just wanted the camera back. I went and confronted him again. At that point he shoved me and said, ‘You wanna (fight)? Let’s go!’ And he put his hands up to fist-fight. Other students pulled him away,” he said.
Morrell said he went to confront the student again as he was getting into a pickup in a student parking lot when the student turned around with a gun.
“He then opened the door to his truck and pulled out a gun. He pointed it at me and said, ‘You want something from me? I got something for you,’” Morrell said. “When I saw that gun pointed at me, I had all these thoughts about my wife and kids. I thought, ‘Forget the camera. I need to get home to my family.’”
Fred Peters, TJC spokesman, said the school also is looking into the incident, but the criminal investigation is being handled by Tyler police.
Peters said he believes the college’s civility committee will discuss the incident and how to best handle any future episodes.
“We will be discussing this, but we must tread lightly because these people do have a right to express themselves,” he said.
Martin said no arrests had been made in the case as of Friday afternoon.