Armed woman threatened to hold hostage at Sunday church service: police

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

A woman donning body armor and holding a loaded rifle who allegedly threatened to hold a person hostage at a Sunday morning church was involved in a burglary earlier in the day, police said.

Amber Espigh, a Harrisburg resident, faces charges of risking catastrophe and harassment, among others. According to police, she was involved in an Oct. 23 burglary before arriving at the Bethel Assembly of God church in Cumberland County.

A criminal complaint alleges that the 31-year-old initially threatened a woman at the Red-Kilo Barbell and Fitness in Fairview Township. After the suspect left, police said gym officials discovered that several items had been removed from the facility.

Amber Espigh

Espigh was ultimately charged with burglary, criminal trespass, simple assault by physical menace and making terroristic threats in the York County incident.

According to a criminal complaint in Cumberland County, meanwhile, Espigh later approached churchgoers in Carlisle, allegedly loading and pointing the rifle at church member Rodney Smith. After Smith asked Espigh to leave several times, she then pointed the gun at other parishioners, charging documents allege.

As a result of Espigh's actions, Sunday's service was stopped immediately and the church was placed under lockdown, court records state.

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When Pennsylvania State Police arrived, Espigh's car was searched and a 9mm pistol was found in the center console, police said.

Members of the church were able to talk with Espigh until troopers arrived at the scene and she was taken into custody, state police said. Nobody was injured in the incident.

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Police officials praised the church members for their handling of the situation.

“They obviously displayed a tremendous amount of bravery,” Cpl. John Boardman, patrol supervisor for the Carlisle station of the Pennsylvania State Police, told PennLive. “It was scary for us to think how bad this could have been.”

According to the PennLive report, the chuch's pastor Chuck Kish addressed the situation at the end of that day's service.

"Everybody is OK, nobody is hurt," Kish said, according to PennLive. "But we did have an incident, and all the things that we had in place deflected what could have happened, but did not.”

In addition to risking catastrophe and harassment, Espigh is also charged with unlawful body armor, simple assault, firearms not to be carried without a license, terroristic threats, carrying a loaded weapon and disorderly conduct, according to charging documents.

Espigh is currently lodged at Cumberland County Prison with bail set at $500,000.

Courts reporter Aimee Ambrose contributed to this story.