God and Allah at an Easter service shooting

A church in Ashtabula, Ohio, was the scene of a shooting on Easter Sunday. Just as services had ended, a man arrived and shot his father in the head, killing him. A reporter sent us a link to an earlier version of an Associated Press story that ran in the Houston Chronicle with a headline that read:

Witness: Man yelled about God after church killing

That’s the headline that remains over this Columbus Dispatch version of the AP report. The reporter thought that interesting in so far as the assailant had reportedly talked about “Allah.” The witness actually said — in later stories at least — that the assailant had talked about Allah and God.

Allah is Arabic for God and none of the involved were Arab speakers, near as I can tell, so there was something interesting about the assailant’s choice of wording. Various other interested parties have suggested or denied drugs or mental health may have been contributing factors to this shooting.

All of which is to say, I found the various headlines interesting. Let’s look through them.

The updated AP story in the Houston Chronicle is now headlined “Relative: No motive in Easter shooting in Ohio.” I can imagine more interesting headlines.

(Ashtabula) Star Beacon: Suspect says shooting ‘will of Allah’

A later Star Beacon story:  Man gunned down after church service: Son arrested, says it was ‘will of Allah’

Local CBS: Police: Son Fatally Shoots Dad During Easter Service, Yells Killing Was ‘Will Of Allah’

National CBS: Ohio Church Shooting: Reshad Riddle, Ohio man, shot father to death in church after Easter service, police say

Vindy.com: Horrified church congregation watches son kill father after Easter service in Ashtabula

The Huffington Post:  Reshad Riddle Yelled About God And Allah After Allegedly Shooting Father In Ohio Church On Easter

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Minister recounts Easter Sunday shooting outside his Ashtabula church; one dead

I did find it odd that the last article doesn’t even mention “Allah” or “God,” but was written by the religion reporter who really struggles with writing fairly, objectively or with any nuance (here, here, here).

My own thinking is that the headlines that say “God” but avoid “Allah” are weird. But I prefer the headlines that focus on “father” “shot” “Easter service” — as those seem to be the key details. The rest can be fleshed out in the body of the story.

But what do you think?

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Why is police victim’s religion such a secret?

A friend sent along a story to me about a religious row that ended in death. He wondered what religion was involved. Here’s the first story I read, from ABC News (Australia), which begins:

A inquest into the death of a man shot last year by police in Castle Hill, in Sydney’s north-west, has heard he was provoked by two men who had insulted his religion.

The Coroner Hugh Dillon said Rodney Elkass was not a gangster or trouble maker, but in the year 2000 he punched a colleague who insulted his religion.

Nowhere in the story do we learn what the deceased man’s religion was. This Herald Sun story is similar:

A RELIGIOUS taunt between workmates more than ten years ago triggered a tragic series of events which ended in police shooting dead a “decent citizen” on a suburban street, an inquest heard this morning.

You can read to the end of that story and not have any idea what religion(s) are involved. At this point, I began wondering if it was some kind of deliberate state secret. This Daily Telegraph story included this at the end of a report:

The street stand-off was triggered when Mr El Kass pulled a loaded Glock 17 pistol on a former workmate after a chance meeting in the shopping centre car park.

The pair had clashed 11 years earlier when the man, known as “Witness A”, sent him a religious slur via a text message.

Good to know. Can we get any details at all about this religious slur?

I began digging around to see if I could find anything out. I found this October 2, 2011 story in the days after the tragic death:

As Mr Elkass was buried after a service at Lakemba mosque yesterday, more details started to emerge of the shooting, which has shocked and angered his family.

The brother of the deceased is also a cop, which makes the story all the more interesting and sad. Anyway, so the funeral was at a mosque. And an accompanying picture to the story linked above shows female mourners who are dressed in modest Muslim attire. So I guess we have our answer. I did end up finding one current story that answers the question, too. Again the Herald Sun:

Rodney Elkass, 37, was shot dead by police in September last year after being told to put down a Glock pistol he had with him in his car.

Earlier, the painter and handyman had pulled the loaded gun on the former colleague – known as “Witness A” – after a chance meeting between them in the Castle Towers shopping centre carpark.

In 2000, Witness A had been left with two black eyes after a fight between them when he made some “derogatory” and “quite offensive” cracks about Mr Elkass’ Islamic faith, the inquest heard.

It just seems like a no-brainer to include which religion the deceased was a member of, when taunts against that religion were a key aspect of the decade-long conflict that led to the death. Oh, and if you want to know more about the slur, there are details here.


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