J. Miles Cary, Associated Press
Knoxville police officers lead Jim D. Adkisson, center, to a squad car in Knoxville, Tenn., on Sunday. Adkisson is accused of shooting nine people Sunday at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A slain Tennessee church member was remembered as a hero for shielding others from a gunman who opened fire during a children's performance Sunday.

Witnesses said Greg McKendry, 60, blocked others behind him at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church from being hit by a shotgun blast.

McKendry "took the blast to protect the rest of us," church member Barbara Kemper told The Associated Press.

A second church member, Linda Kraeger, 61, died several hours later in a hospital. Seven more people were injured, and five were still hospitalized Sunday night in serious or critical condition.

Victims and police were trying to find out why the gunman attacked the church known for its work promoting social issues like desegregation, women's and gay rights and civil liberties.

Jim D. Adkisson, 58, was charged with first-degree murder and held on $1 million bail.

Kemper said the gunman shouted before he opened fire.

"It was hateful words. He was saying hateful things," she said, but refused to elaborate.

Police said the FBI was assisting in case the shooting turned out be a hate crime, but no motive was known. Police were taking statements from witnesses and collecting video cameras from church members who were taping the performance.

Authorities searched Adkisson's duplex in the Knoxville suburb of Powell on Sunday night. A bomb squad was called in as a precaution.

"In a situation like this we're not taking any chances," police Lt. Doug Stiles said. Police refused to provide any details about what they found.

Neighbors described Adkisson as a friendly man who would often work on his motorcycle outside and go on long rides on the weekends.

Melissa Coker, 44, said Adkisson had lived next door since she moved in four or five years ago. She said he had been a truck driver, but she didn't believe he had steady work in the last six months or so.

"He's just a really, really nice guy," Coker said.

Glenda Blair, 54, who also lives next door, said Adkisson did not seem like a threat.

Witnesses described a harrowing scene at the church where about 200 people were watching 25 children perform a show based on the musical "Annie." When the shots were fired, some dove for cover under pews and others scrambled out the door.

Church member Mark Harmon said he was in the first row. "It had barely begun when there was an incredibly loud bang," he said.

Harmon said he thought the noise was part of the play, then he heard a second loud bang. As he dove for cover, he realized a woman behind him was bleeding. She looked like she was in shock, touching her wound, he said. "It seems so unreal."

Harmon said church members just behind him in the second and third rows were shot. His wife told him that she saw the gunman pull the shotgun out of a guitar case.

Witnesses reported hearing about three blasts from the .12-gauge shotgun, which spreads pellets when the shot leaves the barrel. Witnesses said they did not recognize the gunman.

The church's minister was on vacation in western North Carolina at the time of the shooting but returned Sunday afternoon.

"We've been touched by a horrible act of violence. We are in a process of healing and we ask everyone for your prayers," the Rev. Chris Buice said in a statement.

McKendry and his wife had recently taken in a foster child.

"Greg McKendry was a very large gentleman, one of those people you might describe as a refrigerator with a head," said member Schera Chadwick, whose husband, Ted Lollis, arrived at the church just after the shooting. "He looked like a football player. He did obviously stand up and put himself in between the shooter and the congregation.'