An ordinary evening worship service at a Baton Rouge mosque turned scary Thursday night when a man believed to be mentally disturbed started waving a gun, sending worshippers fleeing in panic.
Baton Rouge police confirmed Saturday that they located and detained a man shortly after responding to a call about 9:20 p.m. Thursday from the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge that someone was causing a disturbance with a gun at the center.
“He walked in the mosque, pulled his gun and told people he was going to start shooting,” Emad Nofal, chairman of the Islamic Center of Baton Rouge said Saturday. “Some people started running for their lives. Some people stood in shock.”
About eight to 10 people were in the center at 285 E. Airport Ave., Nofal said, arriving early for the night prayer service set to begin at 9:30 p.m. He said about 50 people normally show up to the prayer service.
Nofal, who spoke on the center’s behalf, was not present when the incident occurred but arrived shortly afterward and received accounts from others who were there at the time. He said he believes the man did not intend on shooting anyone but was mentally unstable.
“He was mumbling words no one understood,” Nofal said. “He is not stable. He was just making a show. He was not coming to kill. Otherwise, he would’ve.”
The person was gone by the time police arrived, and officers located him near the intersection of Florida Boulevard and Lobdell Avenue, Baton Rouge police spokesman Don Coppola Jr. said. He said the man was believed to be an estranged member of the center.
“The subject was detained and was later taken to a local hospital for observation,” Coppola said.
The man had been going to the Islamic Center for four or five months but had stopped showing up in the last couple months, Nofal said.
“He was coming every day and then disappeared for a while,” Nofal said.
Nofal said the man had broken mosque rules previously.
“We’ve had some trouble with him before,” Nofal said. “We are trying to get him to abide by the mosque rules.”
Nofal said he doesn’t think the incident was religiously charged.
“I think it was because of his mental problems,” Nofal said.
Coppola said the investigation is ongoing.