JACKSONVILLE, FL — Melvyn Nurse came from a world of drugs and guns before finding God and Jacksonville's Livingway Christian Fellowship Church 13 years ago. But even after starting his new life, he never forgot.

Thursday, the youth minister died from injuries resulting from a self-inflicted gunshot wound — an accidental death that came from efforts to educate today's youth that guns kill. It was a powerful message left ringing in the ears of all who attended. At the end of his presentation, Melvyn Nurse grabbed the gun again, this time putting it to his head.

For this, church members are proclaiming him a hero.

"He said, 'I want you to hear it [the discharge]. You single mothers, if somebody's fooling you and somebody has this, your babies could get a hold of it,'" Associate Pastor Michael Cooper recalled of the lecture. "I believe he was in the same mind-frame as I was, that you don't get hurt using blanks."

Nurse had dry-fired the .357-caliber revolver several times after inserting one blank into the chamber and spinning the cylinder. He fired the gun into the ceiling once and put it down on a podium and continued his metaphorical message about weapons, drugs and dangerous games people play — like Russian roulette.

At the end of the 30-minute presentation last week, Nurse grabbed the gun again, this time putting it to his head and squeezing the trigger. His body collapsed behind the podium in front of a congregation of 200, including his wife and four daughters.

"He was out of sight, and everybody was waiting. We thought it was part of the demonstration," Cooper said. "I got up and saw it was real."

Nurse, 35, was taken to University Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition until his death Thursday afternoon.

Neither pastor knew that a blank bullet could be just as damaging as the real thing. "He was trying to convey a point that sin leads to death," said Associate Pastor Charlie Freeman. "Brother Nurse is a hero. What makes him a hero is his love for young people and seeing great change in young people and turning them from the direction they're going in."

For this, church members are proclaiming him a hero.

But local gun enthusiasts say Nurse's death was needless, the result of his lack of education.

"Every firearm should be treated as though it's loaded," said Mark Finnell, a salesman at Southside Gun & Pawn. "It was a lack of knowledge in this situation that caused this serious tragedy."

Cooper said Nurse, an apartment complex maintenance supervisor, had visited gun ranges and was aware of the danger. But neither pastor knew that a blank bullet could be just as damaging as the real thing.

The force of the shot shattered Nurse's skull.

"It just doesn't make any sense to put a gun to your head and pull the trigger, whether it's loaded or not," Finnell said. "I would have stopped him if I could have taken the gun out of his hands."

Cooper said Nurse never planned to point the barrel at his head. He planned on firing it over his head, but his aim was off.

Regardless, Cooper said the church and the Nurse family would go on. He said it's not up to anyone to question God's motives. "There's no way you could ever forget this message."

For now, he said all they can do is stop asking why and focus on the good it accomplished.

"After the demonstration it was 3-D. It was impounded in them, and you will never forget that. There's no way you could ever forget this message," Cooper said. "Guns, as he said, are dangerous no matter who uses them."

Funeral arrangements were unavailable last night.


Contrary to popular belief, as evidenced above, blank ammunition can kill at close range. When discharged, a hard cardboardlike wad shoots several feet from the barrel. Blanks are by far most often used on Hollywood movie sets, the settings for two of the prop's most famous fatalities.

On October 12, 1984, model-actor Jon-Erik Hexum playfully put a blank-loaded pistol to his head on the set of the TV spy show "Cover Up." The concussion forced fragments of his skull into his brain, and he died six days later.

More notably, on March 31, 1993, Brandon Lee, son of 70's martial arts star Bruce Lee, was killed during the filming of "The Crow." Lee's death was a bit more complicated. Unbeknownst to the propmaster, the stunt gun that killed Lee had misfired during a previous scene, lodging a slug in the barrel. The gun was reloaded with blanks and fired at Lee. The blank charge was enough to deliver the waiting slug. Lee died 13 hours later.

Almost predictably, these circumstances, coupled with the strange event of his famous father's untimely death, have some of Lee's fans suspecting murder.