Fairfax Police Chief Helps Subdue Knife-Wielding Attacker During Bible Class

The chief attending a This Is My Brave show. Shown with Jeanne Comeau, NAMI Northern Virginia’s Executive Director, and This Is My Brave co-founder Jennifer Marshall. This Is My Brave shows feature individuals with mental illnesses telling their stories about recovery.

(The photo above has nothing to do with the stabbing incident. Jeanne Comeau and Jennifer Marshall were not at the church. I picked the photo because it is an example of Chief Roessler’s support of mental health in our community. I apologize for the confusion.)

(7-19-20) I’m happy that Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin C. Roessler Jr. was not seriously injured yesterday when an armed man burst into a bible class that the chief and his wife, Gina, were attending and attacked a minister.

A fellow church member, who hurried to defend the pastor, and the minister both were stabbed. Chief Roessler was bitten several times on his arms while helping disarm the assailant.  All three were taken to a local hospital but none of the injuries was reported to be life threatening. The attacker was arrested but not injured.

A county police officer told the Washington Post that the attacker, who has not yet been publicly identified, was mentally ill, but there was no further explanation. It was unclear if the claim was based on biographical information or simply speculation because of how the attack unfolded. I do not believe someone should be described as having a mental illness unless there has been a confirmed diagnosis.

(Update: I was able to confirm this afternoon that the attacker has a serious mental illness.  Also, one of the stabbing victims was injured more severely than initially reported. The minister was scheduled to be discharged from a hospital today, but the congregant who ran to assist him was stabbed in an artery,  and required surgery but is expected to be okay.) 

The attacker was yelling obscenities when he entered Grace Covenant Church in Chantilly, Va. The head pastor there later told reporters that he didn’t know of any reason why the attack happened.

Chief Roessler has been a strong advocate for individuals who have a mental health crisis, especially officers in his own department. He has spoken nationally about the alarming suicide rate among police officers and oversaw production of a training video entitled “Consequences of the Badge.”  In it, several Fairfax police officers discussed how they lost a friend or spouse to suicide or considered it themselves.

The chief also has implemented Crisis Intervention Team training in his department. Gina Roessler is a well known mental health advocate in Fairfax County.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.