San Diego - A woman who walked into an Easter service in San Diego carrying a baby with her left arm and waving a gun with her right was tackled by parishioners after threatening to blow up the church, police and witnesses said.
The sermon in the Californian city was just wrapping up when the armed woman appeared on the church stage at about noon, said Brother Ben Wisan, the founding pastor of Church TsidKenu. The church holds its services at Mount Everest Academy, a school in the Clairemont neighbourhood.
Wisan told the congregation of about 100 to get outside and "start praying," but several church members stayed to try and talk to the woman, he said.
"We're a big Holy Spirit church, so the peace of God was over the whole church," he told a reporter with OnScene TV.
David Miller, a Navy man, said he was one of several people who stayed inside to try and defuse the situation safely. Miller told OnScene TV the woman was making "crazy comments" about teaching people how to suffer and that there was a need for people to become martyrs.
He said as the church members started to slowly approach her, she pointed her gun at several parishioners and then her own baby, telling them not to come any closer.
That's when the group, including Miller, tackled the woman, first getting the child to safety and then wresting the gun from her hand, he said.
When police arrived minutes later, the woman tried to escape, Miller said. One officer tackled her through a row of chairs and she was taken into custody. She was later identified as Anna Conkey, 31, and was booked into jail on suspicion of making criminal threats and displaying a handgun in a threatening manner.
No one was injured during the incident. Because Conkey threatened to blow up the building where the church held its service, officers with bomb detection canines swept the facility and her vehicle. Nothing dangerous was located.
Wisan, the pastor, said investigators later told him Conkey's gun wasn't loaded. He said church members knew the woman and that she had attended services in the past. San Diego police Lt Christian Sharp said officers are investigating whether Conkey was involved in an incident at the same church about a week ago.
"It sounds like there might be some mental illness issues that we're looking into," Sharp told OnScene TV.
The woman's 10-month-old baby was taken into protective custody, the lieutenant said. Police also located a second child, a 5-year-old daughter, healthy and unharmed, police said. Both were taken to the Polinsky Children's Center, a 24-hour facility that houses children who must be separated from their family.
According to a personal blog and social media profiles, Conkey was a Navy veteran who studied English and journalism at San Diego State University. She had worked as a digital media producer for NBC7 San Diego, as a news production assistant at KPBS, and had commentaries published in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Conkey often shared her perspective in a personal blog and YouTube channel.
Although her blog appeared to begin as a space to share information about a poetry project inspired by reporting she had done on sex trafficking in San Diego, it quickly grew decidedly religious, and began referencing her detailed dreams and visions.
Church TsidKenu was first mentioned in a November 2018 post about deliverance ministry, which is the act of cleansing a person of demons.
Videos posted to her YouTube channel were also overtly religious. In some, she claimed to be a prophet. The second to last video appears to reference a disagreement she had at her church. She said she was expecting to speak, but when she suggested she knew more than church leaders, she was asked to leave.
Conkey posted her last video hours before showing up at the church on Sunday. In it, she claims that Jesus and Satan are one and that she was sent to reveal the truth to the masses.
"If God decides to blow your minds by appearing as someone very unexpected and doing very unexpected things and saying crazy, crazy stuff, maybe you should listen," she said.
The threat occurred hours after explosions hit Sri Lankan churches and hotels on Easter Sunday in a coordinated attack that killed hundreds of people. On Saturday night, San Diego police Chief Dave Nisleit said on Twitter that extra officers would be patrolling houses of worship as a precaution.