PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — It wasn’t the Portsmouth Police Department, but Senior Pastor Martha Provo who informed 10 On Your Side that her church, St. Mark Deliverance Center on Turnpike Road, was the scene of a crime that was caught on surveillance camera.
“My concern is that we need to let it be known the person is out there and is very dangerous, Provo told WAVY News.
On Wednesday night while the pastor was away, choir rehearsal, which is made up of around 20 people, was held as usual while Deacon Jasper Lewis patrolled the parking lot.
Just before 7 p.m., Jasper noticed the driver of a blue pickup, believed to be a Nissan, had circled the parking lot twice.
“A third time around he came back with his lights off this time. He backed up and after a minute no more than two he was just there and then shots rang out,” Lewis said. “That’s when I scrambled to get to the door and he took off.”
Lewis, a 68-year-old Army veteran, told 10 On Your Side that he does not know the driver and he knows of no reason why someone would harm him
Members say four shots were fired. After the incident, Deacon Lewis learned his shoe and clothing were hit by gunfire, but his flesh was untouched.
“The bullet hit my shoe; it went through my pants and all the legs of my pants left and right,” Lewis explained.
Pastor Provo says she is concerned about the nature of the attack given the nation’s history of violence against Black churches.
“Indeed that was one of my major concerns. I want to ensure that this is nothing that would be a hate crime,” Provo said. “So we are not sure and I cannot address that at this moment but that is one of my concerns.”
Deacon Lewis said his faith has helped him through would could have been a deadly ordeal.
“Nothing but God and being covered by the blood just being covered by the blood and trying to be as faithful as I can to God serving the ministry,” Lewis said.
Deacons Lewis and Chukuma Awanna, who oversees security at St. Mark, say they know of no reason why someone would open fire at St. Mark, which served as a voting precinct on Election Day.
“We have been preparing and training for this [active shooter incident]. Because of that night, this is our first active shooting incident,” Awanna said.
As police investigate, church members are holding on to more than faith. They’ve also called on the FBI to offer assistance in the investigation.
“By faith, we are going to do what we need to do as well as strategize using wisdom to ensure that this never happens again,” Senior Pastor Provo said.
Late Friday, Portsmouth police issued its first statement on the crime. A spokesperson wrote:
On November 9, 2022, around 7:05 p.m., officers responded to the 3800 block of Turnpike Road for a report of a shooting. Upon arrival, officers located a 68-year-old male with a graze wound from a bullet. Medics were not requested. Investigators have acquired surveillance images of a suspect vehicle. It appears to be a gray or blue 2010–2020 Nissan Frontier Pro-4x with dark-tinted windows. The vehicle was last seen fleeing right on Turnpike Road toward Frederick Boulevard.
10 On Your Side has learned the suspect vehicle has body damage on the front passenger side of the pick-up truck.
Portsmouth Police spokesperson Victoria Varnedoe reached out to WAVY’s Regina Mobley Saturday to offer additional information. Varnedoe said the police department takes this incident very seriously and that patrols have been increased around the church because of the incident. Varnedoe added that at this point there is no evidence the shooting is a hate crime.
She also said that although the church deacon called the incident an “active shooter” case, his description is inconsistent with how the police department describes an active shooter situation.
Police ask that you call the Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP if you know who fired on Deacon Lewis.
Check WAVY.com for the latest updates.