SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Sacramento police say 34-year-old Paul Nelson tried to kidnap two young children in front of their parents at Calvary Christian Center church.
“He took two kids and tried to run,” said churchgoer Sonya Harris.READ MORE: 1 Arrested After Spectators Allegedly Block Deputies Trying To Break Up Sutter County Sideshow
Churchgoers and witnesses are still shaken over what happened, especially after finding out the suspect lives nearby and also attends the church.
“He must’ve been wacked out of his mind because in the middle of the day, with all the families out there,” said witness Steve Ambriz. “Thank God somebody [saw] him. Somebody was paying attention.”
Witnesses say Nelson approached a large group of parents and kids who were eating at some picnic tables after choir rehearsal around lunchtime Saturday.
“She said he had on some really nice clothes, kind of like church clothes, and he came up and said ‘hi’ to them and started to interact with the children,” Sonya said.
“I prayed with the guy, I know the guy, I know his son.”
–Deacon George Harris on suspect Paul Nelson
But things took a turn when Sonya says Nelson grabbed a two and five year old child and suddenly took off running through the parking lot.
“They were grabbing the boy and he had a chokehold on him. So they were trying to get him as he was running and he had his arm around the boy’s neck,” Sonya said.
Several parents were able to wrestle Nelson to the ground and held him there until police arrived.READ MORE: Gov. Gavin Newsom Threatens Mandatory Water Cuts If Californians Don’t Use Less Water
“As a mother myself, it’s very scary. To know that people are in your environment that look like they wouldn’t hurt a child, but they are the very predators that would actually calculate to do something to harm your kid,” Sonya said.
“I prayed with the guy, I know the guy, I know his son,” said Deacon George Harris.
Deacon Harris says Nelson attends the church. He believes it’s all a misunderstanding.
“He might have been under an influence or something like that, but he’s not a violent guy. He’s not a child molester, he’s not a kidnapper. He’s none of those,” Deacon Harris said.
But parents like Sonya are keeping a much closer eye on their surroundings and kids.
“It just makes me more aware,” Sonya said. “I think sometimes when we are in a safe environment, because church is a safe environment, we don’t see the criminal in people. We try to see the best in people. So just feeling too comfortable at times can really put you in danger.”MORE NEWS: Cousins From Ceres Killed In Modesto Rollover Crash
Nelson is charged with kidnapping, resisting arrest and having outstanding warrants. He’s being held on a two million dollar bail and is due in court on Tuesday.