An Ambridge man was arrested trying to take a rifle into a predominantly Black church on August 29th, 2023. Jeffrey Harris, 38, had handwritten notes about an active shooting in his home, which “appeared ready for a standoff” 1. He is charged with aggravated assault, attempted burglary and other charges in connection with his threatening and bizarre behavior 1.
Ambridge police were initially sent to Duss Avenue near Fourth Street about 9 a.m. for a report of a man walking around with a long gun. A woman at the scene told officers the man — later identified as Mr. Harris — pointed a gun at her and then at another woman on the street 1. She said he also tried to get into the Greater Dominion Church on Melrose Avenue, sparking concerns among Ambridge officers that Mr. Harris might have been “attempting to enter the church with a long gun to commit a hate crime,” investigators wrote, noting that the church’s pastor and many congregants are African-American 1.
Officers from multiple departments began to search the area for Mr. Harris, and he was eventually spotted by a Beaver County Regional Police Department officer in the doorway of a Merchant Street business. He allegedly pointed his rifle at the officer before backup arrived and he was ordered out of the doorway 1. Mr. Harris allegedly had with him a “half-dollar size” piece of crystal meth and a 25-round box of shotgun shells 1. Officers said he made “bizarre comments” while en route to the police station, including referencing a deceased brother 1. Police also noted the shotgun seemed to have been fired recently 1.
On Duff Avenue, where Mr. Harris lived, police smelled chemicals and saw a makeshift barricade. The home “appeared ready for a standoff,” according to the complaint, and furniture was positioned in such a way that it would funnel anyone entering the home into a particular area 1. The makeshift barrier included a Pelican weapons case with a hole drilled in it — a setup that would allow someone the tactical advantage of firing at the front door from a protected position 1. Officers left the house when they saw what they thought could be a bomb on the floor, according to the complaint. The Allegheny County Bomb Squad cleared the home. No explosives were found 1.