In December of 2008 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) came out with their program to combat an active shooter situation with Run-Hide-Fight. DHS presented it as Run then Hide and then Fight in a linear process. I felt it needed more so when I first started to use Run-Hide-Fight in training, I added another part, Focus. Once you hear the gunshots you needed to Focus on where the shots originated from so you didn’t run toward the shooting. Having heard gunshots in a building it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly where they are coming from. They will echo off walls travel down hallways and so it is sometimes hard to tell the actual location of the shooter. So we taught in churches to first Focus and see if you can tell the location of shooter before Run-Hide-Fight.
I was still having a hard time with Run-Hide-Fight, there was something about it that I couldn’t put my finger on it that bothered me. In fact the only reason I used the DHS Run-Hide-Fight was because everyone had heard it and hey you don’t argue with the government. They know best, right? Then the Houston Police Department came out with their training video on Run-Hide-Fight. If you have never seen this video, you can view it here and then you will understand some of my other issues with Run-Hide-Fight. In this video you see what looks like a Houston office complex with people dressed in business attire going about their daily routines. Then here comes this Vin Diesel looking character dressed in all black with black shades walking into the building and then pulling a shotgun out of the black backpack and starts shooting. I think you can follow where I am going with this, the shooter was an anomaly from the start.
The second thing I noticed with the video was that everyone except maybe the security guard is under 50 and also in good shape. Of course the security guard is probably under 50 but he is the first one to get shot. What they didn’t show in this video were any elderly or those that might not be in the best shape of their life. It also appeared that not one person with disabilities worked in this office complex. Do they not exist in a real-world active shooting situation? Did we just leave them out or do we not want to discuss that possibility?
When we first began talking about our safety policies and procedures for our new building; when we got to the active shooter portion most team members pushed Run-Hide-Fight. Having walked the property numerous times, I asked him “run where”? The response was to their cars or behind trees, just get out of the building as fast as they can. I disagreed: we needed to barricade the doors and try to keep the shooter from getting into our worship center and the children’s ministry. After a couple of minutes of a little tense discussion we walked the property and came to an agreement that Run-Hide-Fight would not work.
Sometimes people get hung up on the fact that the Department of Homeland Security created the Run-Hide-Fight environment. Law enforcement agencies all over the country started putting on seminars covering Run-Hide-Fight; it was the end all be all for all churches. But after looking over our church’s property and members we felt that it was not a good option. One size does not fit all and we needed to make some major changes. The first thing we pointed out was our location. In the Houston video the ones that ran out of the building went into alley ways or around large power boxes and used them to hide from the shooter. Our church is located on a large piece of property where there is really nowhere to hide from someone shooting at you. If the shooter is mobile or even if there are two shooters, getting from the church to a position of cover is a little bit of a sprint. Getting into your car will make you less mobile until you are moving off of the campus. Sitting in a stationary car makes a parishioner an easier target for the shooter. And your vehicle is not bulletproof like they appear to be in the movies. A shot to the door by most weapons used by shooters, even handguns will penetrate the door. If there is a traffic jam in the parking lot then everyone is stuck and the shooter has plenty of targets until the shooting stops.
How about hiding behind the trees on the property? How many trees do you have on your property. How far are the trees from the church, up against the building or 50 to 100 yards away. How many people can you get behind a tree at one time until it makes it a non-viable cover spot. Not that many. If you have an open field next to your church, where does the congregation and children go? If your church has multiple buildings you could use those buildings to run to but you have to have a plan in place to know which building is best to run toward when the shooting starts. You do not want to take an active shooter towards your children’s ministry building. You should be moving the shooter as far away from you children as possible.
The next thing we considered are our elderly and people with disabilities. Every time I walk into our worship center I look for my elderly and those with a disability in case I need to move them out of the church in the event of a fire. But that becomes a major issue with Run-Hide-Fight; well the Run part. What do I do about those that either cannot run because of age or those with disabilities? We have to have a plan in place for everyone.
Recently I received a call from a church that wanted to talk about active shooting training. They had gotten our information from one of the law enforcement agencies we work closely with. The first thing I told him was that I didn’t teach Run-Hide-Fight. I explained to him that Pew Research showed on average most churches had 25% of their congregation over the age of 65. He joked and said flip that, that most of his congregation was over the age of 65, that it was about 80% of the church so he understood that Run-Hide-Fight wasn’t going to work for him either. He just needed some sort of solution to protect his flock.
So here is what we teach; we need to find a way to protect those inside our church, our children’s ministry and the worship center without a lot of movement. Even though I felt that we at Trinity Security Allies came up with this years ago, we didn’t give it a cool acronym like what Pasco County Sheriff’s Department does. Pasco County teaches the ABC of an Active Shooting to their schools. A is for Alert, B is for Barricade and C is for Confront. When the crisis starts you Alert others of what is going on and start to lockdown. Then you Alert local law enforcement of the situation. You then take yourself and others and Barricade yourself and those with you in a secure room. If you can’t get yourself into a room away from the shooter, you must Confront the shooter by whatever means are available. I hope one day this technique will be taught all over the United States.
First step of any active shooter planning for a church is to look at your strength and weaknesses. My first walkthrough of any new church is to see if doors in the children’s ministry, classrooms and worship center will lock. You would be surprised how many times I find all the doors in a children’s ministry without locks and then walk over to where the church keeps its audio visual equipment and find doors Fort Knox would be proud of. I don’t understand why we put so much emphasis on things we can replace with insurance over our most precious treasure; our children. If you don’t have locks to protect your children that is one of the first items that has to be implemented. No ifs, ands or buts. Our number one priority should be to protect the children.
If you have classrooms, put locks on the doors so you can lockdown or find rooms in the building that will work as a rendezvous point. We work with a church in Lakeland that has multiple stories so we picked rooms on every floor for everyone to run to incase of a lockdown. Each room had something specific that would allow you to lock the doors and then put things against the door, turn off the lights and get low. Some rooms we picked had water and facilities in case someone was injured or if they were going to be in the room for a long period of time.
So we have alerted local law enforcement and barricaded the best we can; we realize we may have to confront the danger. In the old west when new settlers in wagon trains headed out for fresh opportunities you had different positions that would protect the travelers. There would be the wagon captain that was in charge of the journey and they would send out scouts to watch for dangers across the horizon. They would be out watching for that anomaly that looked like a threat. If they saw anything that made them feel uncomfortable they would come back to the wagon train and get ready to circle the wagons.
This is why your rovers are so important. If they spot a Vin Diesel looking guy with black clothing and black glasses with a black backpack heading toward your church and they don’t know who it is, there needs to be an intervention. The Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shootings, the shooters work black tactical clothes with some sort of mask over their faces. They both shot at someone or the church before they went inside the churches. Once the rover spots a possible danger and has alerted other safety team members of what he has the team needs to start moving into lockdown or circling the wagons.
Church volunteers must make sure the lockdown is taking place. Not everyone needs to be going against the threat. If you have contacted local law enforcement, gotten your doors locked and everyone down, you have just saved lives. If your doors are not glass but wooden doors that lock, remember information gained from the Sandy Hook investigation; “that no violent intruder has ever entered a locked classroom”. We know that time is against an active shooter so they are looking for easy targets. Kicking in doors where there might not be anyone is wasting time. Looking at the October shooting at the Germany synagogue, the shooter was not able to get into the synagogue because of the locked wooden doors but two innocent bystanders were killed because they didn’t move away from the shooter.
So we have gotten the church on lockdown. We know where most of our worshipers are located and now we work on keeping the threat from entering the church. If our rover was successful and alerting us of the threat we then proceed to lock all doors leading into the church if possible. We do not go outside after the threat. Let law enforcement handle that. Our entry doors are glass, we know that the armed intruder is going to have to break out the glass to get inside. This gives you an opportunity to plan to confront the shooter. If you have armed safety team members they should be moving toward cover and now directing their aim as the attacker tries to make their way into the church. If you do not have armed safety team members, use whatever you have available to confront the assailant. I love when I go through a church that provides hymnals or Bibles in their worship center. A person with a gun facing 30 to 40 heavy books raining down on him gives you a lot of opportunity to get to that person and get the weapon away from them before they even fire a shot.
Using the analogy of the wagon train again, after successfully fighting off the threat you never saw members of the wagon train hoping on their horses and chasing after the threat. You took care of those that have been injured or in the case of an active shooter you are doing what the local law enforcement is advising you to do, but you don’t go chasing after the enemy. Yes our hero in Sutherland Springs, Stephen Williford did go after the shooter but he wasn’t in the church. As a safety team leader or member, your responsibility is the flock. Let the police or good Samaritans like Williford handle the bad guy.
Run-Hide-Fight taught us we had to be ready for an attack on our churches. It also made us aware there is more than an active shooter we have to be prepared for in our houses of worship. We see domestic issues, disruptive attendees, medical incidents and even lost children. I heard a safety team member from another church say that it was a boring job being a safety team person. First, I like boring and second it ain’t all about him and third he doesn’t have the servant heart to be on my team. Yes it may seem boring but we cannot become complacent. We must always be on alert. Safety Team Member give yourself no rest for Satan is out there like a roaring lion looking for a church to destroy. Soon churches will be overflowing with visitors and members for the Christmas season and Satan would just love to disrupt us when we are celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Watchmen/Watchwomen we cannot let this happen, not at our church, not on our watch. Be safe and have a fantastic Christmas season.
We can always remember where we were on important dates in world history. I was in my 3rd grade class on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot in killed. Our teacher came into the classroom and told us we could go home because of the President’s death. I remember running home to tell my parents the news only to find them in front of the television watching as things unfolded. September 11, 2001 I was at work in Alexandria, Virginia. Wendy was in Iowa visiting her family showing off Jessica who was a little over 3 months old. I remember we had the television on at work when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Nobody in the office was thinking attack, all I could think about was that Wendy and Jessica were about to leave her mom’s house and head to the airport. I called Wendy on the phone to see if she had seen the news, if she hadn’t, I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want her to worry about traveling. When the second plane hit the South Tower Wendy called me on the phone and told me her flight had been cancelled and I told her not to worry we would figure something out. I could go on and on about where I was on certain dates, but this year’s conference is on an anniversary weekend of a date I will always remember exactly where I was at the moment and time I was notified about the Sutherland Baptist Church Shooting.
November 5th, 2017 started off like any other Sunday. I had gotten up and went to church, three services went by without a hitch. I was hoping that we would get out on time. The Dallas Cowboys had a 1:00 game and were playing the Kansas City Chiefs. It wasn’t on local television, so I was going to head over to Johnny Brusco’s to watch the game. Wendy decided we could do a working lunch while I watched the game. She wanted to hear about the church I had spoken at in New Port Richey the day before and the next few weeks were going to be hectic, so she wanted to put together a strategy plan. My mind wasn’t much on work because I was so into the game, we had a new quarterback and the best running back in the league. Kansas City was no push over and if the Cowboys could beat them, their season was looking better. Wendy was asking about the Saturday training and going over everything we had coming up that week when the first text came to my phone. Then the second one hit, “Are you watching this?”, “Shooting in small Texas church in Sutherland Springs, multiple causalities.” I opened my Fox News App on my phone and started watching the horror play out. Preliminary reports told us that they estimated the causalities in the 20’s but there could be as many as 50, the shooter used an AR-15 style weapon and was dressed in black tactical gear. I quickly looked at where Sutherland Springs was located because this place sounded like the town near where I grew up in Texas. Small town with the population of 600. I found that it was outside of San Antonio, about 4 hours from where I grew up.
Then the reports started to come in, 26 people killed with 20 others injured. The suspect was killed and was the son-in-law of one of the members of the church. Immediately I was taken back to my Saturday training. I told Wendy I had just told the church I feared the next attack against a church would be a domestic issue and here it was happening right in front of us. I don’t remember too much about the Cowboys’ game, I was still trying to wrap my head around what was unfolding in front of me because nothing made sense. I was angry, how could a gunman walk into a church and kill 26 innocent people and wound 20 more. My thoughts went to training; was this church not prepared for an incident like this one? Was there nobody armed in a small Texas church on that Sunday? Did the pastor tell them to leave their guns in the car? How could this happen?
I wanted answers. I got some, the shooter was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for beating his wife and almost killing his infant son. Then there was another question, how did he get this weapon? He was seen a few days before the shooting at their church’s Halloween festival, dressed in all black which caused concerns of several members of the church. At the shooting, law enforcement officers advised the media that the shooter had 15 magazines capable of holding 30 rounds each. One newspaper stated that authorities estimate 700 rounds were fired in 11 minutes. Reports started to talk about the victims, the pastor was away that weekend, but his daughter was killed, a whole family attending the church was killed, it just went on and on. I remember walking around for several days upset about the event. It took me back to my situation and once again I raised my hand up to God and cried out WHY? What did the fine folks in Sutherland Spring do to deserve this carnage? I had to turn away from the news and focus on the week ahead but every time I had a chance, I was going online to find more answers about what happen in Sutherland Springs.
Then the media came to Sutherland Springs. “Never let a good tragedy go to waste”. If you know me, I don’t operate that way. When 9/11 happened, I was a consultant for a public safety software company that their product allowed all types of computers to talk to each other. Didn’t matter the platform they were running on; this software allows user from one law enforcement agency to search multiple agency’s systems like never before. The day after 9/11 when fires were still burning at the sites of the attacks, the CEO of the company called all of us together and said that we were going to have a retreat this weekend to discuss how the company could capitalize on what just happened. We were still looking for survivors and he was talking about making money. I left the company about two weeks later.
So, when the media started hitting Sutherland Springs, I am still mourning the dead and I wasn’t even involved in the incident. There were those that went out and, to me, used the incident for their own justification, ratings and their agendas. This just put me more into a tailspin. Give the families and friends of the victims a chance to bury their dead, let them have a moment to reflect on what had just happened and then after a while, let them tell their story. But so many of the “concerned” wanted to be the first to interview the victims and get their 15 minutes of fame with the ones that had lost so much; love ones, friends and the innocence of knowing that evil can come into even a house of worship and do the most vile thing possible.
I took a step back and though about my own story. I grew up in a small town and when I was 15, my mother and father had domestic issues. My father physically abused all of us and my mother took us and fled to friends of the family. The friend and his wife took us in with their eight kids until we could decide what was going to be our next move. The friend was a deacon of the church and was counseling my mother and father. One Sunday after a church service my father walked out of the service and shot and killed the deacon. I couldn’t talk about what happened for several years. I was at a class reunion not too long ago and when I started sharing my story, classmates looked at me and told me they never knew of my past. It was just something I didn’t want to talk about.
When we got into this ministry, I still didn’t like telling that story even though it was so important to the ministry. I would always leave it till the end of my training and it was one of those slides that “this can happen anywhere, even in a small Texas town” slides. Attendees would tell me I needed to put my story first in the training. I explained that I put it in the back because I didn’t want to take that tragedy and use it for personal gain. I felt uncomfortable talking about it first, I didn’t want to capitalize on a tragedy. So many attendees told me it gave me more validity to who I was. It was explained to me that we all have a story, this is what makes us who we are, and it puts a personal side to these types of incidents. After that we started putting my story in the front of the presentation and we could see the difference it made. I was telling people my story and they could relate because most knew me or had experienced a similar story.
So, when we planned our first conference, I wanted to bring in keynote speakers that had a story to tell. Once again not to capitalize on tragedy but to show the human side of people when faced with these types of situations. You see we read about these stories, but we don’t feel the human side of the story. We might read about it but when we hear their story it hits us right at home. It tells us it could happen to anyone and anywhere, including you and me.
For our first conference I had heard about a pastor in Kissimmee who was involved in a shootout with an employee at his church. I contacted Terry Howell not knowing how he would respond but he immediately accepted our invitation. Terry explained to me that he was in the process of letting an employee go, when the employee pulled a gun and at point blank range shot at Terry. The shooter missed Terry. God had other plans for him. Having him at the conference telling his story showed the human side of when evil walks into the church. We learned it didn’t have to be a stranger that walks in, we must always be prepared.
The following year I had no idea on what we were going to do for a keynote speaker. Once again God showed me, He was in control (I need to practice what I preach, He always has our back when we are following Him). I was invited to come down to St Pete and speak at a Florida Baptist pastors luncheon about our ministry. When I got there, they told me they had another pastor speaking who was at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, where a person walked in and killed 7 people. I knew immediately this had to be a pastor from the Wedgewood Baptist Church shooting.
I met Ron Holland who was a youth minister at another church in Fort Worth. He had taken a group of his kids to Wedgewood to see a youth play when evil once again walked into a church and started killing people. Being a little afraid that Ron might think I was an ambulance chaser and just wanted to exploit his story, I hesitantly asked him if he would come and talk at our conference. He immediately agreed to come and tell his story. What we didn’t realize was the day of 2nd conference was the 19th anniversary of the shooting. When Ron told his story there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
So, coming up on this year I was not sure where we were going to go. I was looking for another story that we could relate to, to put that special person in front of the group to understand that these incidents are real, and they happen to everyday people like you and me. Of course, I didn’t see this one coming. God did, isn’t He something.
A friend of my wife told her about Julie Workman, a survivor from Sutherland Springs. I immediately knew the name Workman. You see Kris Workman was leading music on November 5th when evil struck in Sutherland Springs. Kris was one of those 20 survivors. He was shot twice, and it left him paralyzed from the waist down. So the name Julie Workman I figured was a family member of Kris Workman.
I found out that Julie was Kris’s mother. She and her two sons had survived the attack. So, I called Julie not knowing what to say and in a few awkward minutes on the phone she opened up with her story. I told her about our conference, and I wanted her to share her story. It is one of faith and how all of those involved pulled together and grew stronger. This is story you do not want to miss. The faith of the survivors at Sutherland Spring are the faith that Paul found with the early Christians who were being persecuted in the New Testament. Their faith will not be extinguished by a madman walking into their church. It will not die.
So, I invite you, if you have not signed up, there are still tickets for the conference. Come and listen to one of the most powerful testimonies you will ever hear. Come and hear Julie tell her story and know that God has a plan for everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your background is. God has a story for all of us. David Colbath one of the Sutherland Springs survivors, who was shot eight times said it best "God had nothing to do with this," "Evil came into our church and evil tried to prevail, but evil didn't win, God won."
When Wendy and I started this ministry, I knew it was God’s plan and we would see satan attacking us in all sorts of places. Some would take us by surprise, others we would see right in front of us. We have met some people along this journey that have made incredible promises to us only to see them use us to their advantage then turn on us. We have lost close friends because of difference of opinions but we have stayed true to Him. We know He is in control and sometimes we ask what is the reason for all of this. Yet in every bad situation we learned something of value, or we see His hands in the darkness and know that He was with us during these attacks which has made us stronger in our walk in this ministry.
Satan would love to see houses of worship and law enforcement agencies not get along. When
we share incidents that happen to our churches with law enforcement we are spreading the word
of those that would like to harm us or another a house of worship. It puts evil on notice, “15
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all
returned to the wall, each to our own work.” Nehemiah 4:15 (NIV). So when God frustrates a
plot to harm a church because of what the safety team and law enforcement put together we are
all working on the expansion of the Kingdom of God. What you must understand Satan doesn’t
want us to work together so we must train both sides to overcome this issue.
Recently, four different churches we work with have been attacked and these are not just minor incidences; these are attacks that need to be reported. During these attacks local law enforcement has been called and right now I am sad to say that I am wondering what is going on with my brothers in arms. Instead of getting into the weeds I want to list things that you need to do when something happens on your property that causes you great concern to the point you contact local law enforcement.
I have said this in all our presentations, you need insurance like USCCA if you are going to carry in the church. When you join USCCA, they provide you with a list of things to do in case you are involved in a shooting.
1. Call 9-1-1
2. Call Critical Response Team:1-877-677-1919
There are more instructions, however I think you get the gist. They want you to call them as soon as everyone is safe so they can also protect their member.
So those churches that have a Trinity Security Allies Church Safety & Security Membership have benefits also. If you have an incident that rises to the level of calling law enforcement, as soon as law enforcement leaves, you need to call me. I am finding more and more agencies are trying to talk churches out of making a report or making statements that cause the church to think that it is useless to make a report. One agency told the church that prosecution might be difficult, so the church thought why bother making a report. We cannot have that happen anymore. As your advocate of protecting your church and the churches around you, we cannot continue to skip making the report when something as serious as a church being vandalized with the Bibles in the church has been decimated.
Let me give you a couple of reasons why. In the four incidents with churches we work with, two of these incidents I would consider as a threat to the church and other churches in the area. We are fortunate nobody was hurt in either of these cases. The information needs to be shared with the safety team leaders of the church. With the information, safety team leaders can make informed decision on how to not let this happen on their campus.
Some of this information is sensitive so unless you make a report, I am going to refrain from sharing that information. This is just to protect the church and myself from being sued. Most of the time there are other ways to gather that information through public means. Public information is just that, available to the public. If I find public information on a person that has come into your church and caused you concern, I will send that information out to the safety team leaders and they can do with it what they please. We say this all the time in our training; this is not gossip or trying to harm someone’s reputation. This is protecting the flock and we must be careful about how we do it and how we share it. With a police report in hand I can share that information and do a little digging on my own. Florida is an open information state. This is a good thing. Other states that will not give out information on an arrested subject cause the public a big disservice. We never want to hurt someone’s character but using Spock logic “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”. This may sound a little harsh but if you have families bringing their children to your church, they have an expectation of being safe. If people don’t feel safe in your church, you won’t have a church.
Here is a list of things you need to do the next time you have an incident at your church that rises to the level of contacting local law enforcement. Copy these and put them somewhere you can find when you have an incident at your church.
1. Make sure everyone is safe. If you need to do a lockdown, do it. It is better to be safe than sorry. Try, if possible, to get a picture of the suspect and the vehicle the suspect is driving. Do this without putting yourself in harm’s way. You and the safety of everyone in your church is the number one priority.
2. Contact local law enforcement. If it is an emergency call 9-1-1. If not an emergency, you can contact their non-emergency number. Have this number written down somewhere, in your phone, so you don’t have to look it up.
3. Report to dispatch what you have. Dispatch will have a lot of questions to ask you. Be patient, they are getting information for the law enforcement officer (LEO) that is responding to the scene. In 9-1-1 calls as soon as you give your location and the emergency, units should be on the way.
4. If the dispatch tells you do not have a crime and they will not send anyone out, politely ask for a supervisor. When the supervisor talks to you, be professional and polite. Remember we get more with honey than vinegar and these phone calls are generally recorded. Tell them you want to see a LEO; don’t back down. They may try to talk you out of it; do not let them. Try to make sure you get all the names of those you have talked with for future references. Some dispatchers will give you a dispatcher number instead of a name; write it down.
5. After a LEO responds to your call, do not let them talk you out of the report. They may tell you that it is not a crime. Politely explain to them you want to do an “information only report”. Having been a detective I can tell you these types of reports help solve crimes. When we start to see patterns of crimes, these reports help in the apprehensions and convictions of the persons doing those crimes.
6. Ask for the report number. This helps me track down the report.
7. After all of this is over, call me, 727-267-0590. We will talk about the incident and what our next steps should be.
There must be a paradigm shift with law enforcement and houses of worship. Most houses of worship will not contact law enforcement unless there is a true concern. As a crisis negotiator we must learn that those concerns of the ones we are talking to are as real to them as the air they breathe. If law enforcement does not train their staff to respond to every call made from a house of worship as a concern, houses of worship will stop calling. We know what happens when we overlook the information gathered about persons of interest, we have Parkland, Sutherland Springs or the Washington Naval Yard shootings. There were warning signs in all of these and we must learn from our mistakes. If we don’t, we are doomed to repeat them and I don’t want to live with the burden that we didn’t do as much as we could to stop these types of acts of violence. We have to all work together, on the same page and support one another in this fallen world.
There is something that we must accept, as hard as it may sound; unless there is a massive change in our culture, mass shootings are here to stay. All politicians claim that their plans or theories are the best way to alleviate the problem, but sad to say to unless we change our moral compass, we are doomed to continue to see these acts of violence across our country. I am not going to talk about gun control or lack of gun control here, this is the not the proper format. This is to talk about what smarter people than me are saying that we need to start looking at how to prevent the next mass shooting coming to a school, mall or church near you.
While working on this blog, I found two very interesting articles on the issue. Jillian Peterson and James Densley “Here’s what we know about mass shooters” and Tony Perkins on “Solution to gun violence isn’t what you think says former police officer”. One tells us what we should be looking for and the second really hits what we should be doing as the church. If we are going to stop these shootings we have to get involved. Yes I said that right, we the church need to step out of our comfort zone again and get busy.
In the Jillian Peterson and James Densley article “Here’s what we know about mass shooters” They did an extensive two-year study of mass shootings going back as far as 1966, interviewing shooter’s families, survivors, first responders and even the shooter themselves. Peterson and Densley came up with four commonalities in almost all studied mass shootings.
Peterson and Densley found most of the shooters “experienced trauma or exposure to violence at a young age”. This could be anything from physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, severe bullying and parental suicide. Often these were linked to mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, thoughts disorders or suicidality.
The next thing Peterson and Densley described was something in the shooters life they could point to as an “identifiable crisis point in weeks or months leading up to the shooting”. This causes the shooter to become angry and feeling hopeless in their situation. Workplace shooters losing a job, students who experience a breakup, bullying or disappointment in not getting what they wanted at school. Most of the times their change in behavior is a noticeable change or they voiced their disappointment in the situation by talking about suicidal thoughts or acts of violence. Almost always there is some type of red flag on the dramatic change in their lives.
Peterson and Densley continue with most of the shooters had a fascination of other shooters. When we look at the recent El Paso shooter, in his manifesto he discusses the New Zealand Christchurch shooter writing “In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto.” With constant 24/7 news, social media, hate filled website and violent games, shooters seek not only the notoriety but want to outdo other shooters in this horrific crime against humanity. In this area Peterson and Densley also noticed that other acts of violence validate their actions, and this causes mass shootings to happen in clusters. We see this with El Pasco, Dayton and four mass shooting attempts foiled by law enforcement over the past few weeks.
Peterson and Densley close with the shooters must have “the means to carry out their plan”. When the shooter decides that it is time to act and that life is over for them, they must have the means to commit the act. Most school shootings the shooter obtains their guns from a family member and we have seen that most adult shooters have obtained their weapons legally. There is nothing in the criminal history check to show that a person has had mental health issues or has attempted to commit suicide and in the case of juveniles, most criminal records are not included in the adult record check so crimes against person by a person under 18 is not found when someone does a criminal history check with National Crime Information Center (NCIC).
And just to add a personal note on the mental health issue. When I worked for the Town of Belleair we had a person that attempted suicide multiple times. Every time we received a call that this person was threatening to kill them self, we would remove all weapons from that person’s home. Every time that person got out of the hospital they would go down and retrieve their firearms only to have them available when they committed the next attempt. We were in constant fear that this person would eventually try suicide by cop; shooting at us with the weapons that were given back to them after every suicide effort. One time the weapon was destroyed only to have that person go out and purchase another weapon. The law would not allow us to put those suicide attempts in NCIC.
So, where does the church come into play. Looking at the first three reasons a person may become a mass shooter we have to understand several things. Christ has been removed from the schools, homes and sometimes even in churches. In Tony Perkins article “Solution to gun violence isn’t what you think says former police officer” he states “As Jesus observed in Matthew 15:19, from the human heart comes murder. To talk about the "why" and not just the "how," requires we go beyond external, environmental factors to focus on the internal aspect of morality. And we can't have an honest discussion about morality without including religion.” Man, I wish I would have said this, “we can’t have an honest discussion about morality without including religion”.
The first reason Peterson and Densley talked about were the issues within the home. We have seen the value of the home decay over the last 50 years. Broken families, domestic violence and bullying at the schools is a major cause of the “nature of their exposures” as Peterson and Densley write. Since we have been taking God out of our schools, our homes and just about every where else how can we expect anything different coming from our children. Where is their support right now? Do they get their validation from outside sources like social media, the shows they watch or hearing it on the streets, or do they get it from the parents, church members and church staff? Who are the people raising and influencing our kids?
Who do they talk to in times of crisis? Do we listen? Are you looking for those warning signs? The last three mass shootings that were foiled by local law enforcement were because of information received from friends, family members or social media where the shooter made threats or statements that alerted those close to that person that this person really needed help. When you get that low that you are thinking of killing innocent people and possibly yourself that is a diffident cry for help. Let’s be realistic people; that is not in most people’s DNA so to get to that point something has gone terribly wrong in that person’s life. Where are we when those that are hurting need us?
A good friend of mine, Phil Chalmers, who has interview over 200 teen killers and school shooters list as one of his “The Ten Causes of Teen Murder” the “lack of spiritual guidance and proper discipline”. In Phil’s seminars he talks at length about the social media, music and games children who murder watch. A lot of the games, music video and movies glorify death and killing. Parents wake up! What video games are your kids playing? What videos are they watching on YouTube? What music are they listening to? A disturbing trend we are now seeing in our kids is the sharing of nude pictures of themselves to each other over programs like Snapchat or Instagram. And every time we approach a parent about these issues, they tell us that is just growing up or their child would never do anything like that. Unless that child has a strong family value system to support them, one day you will see something that will break your heart.
So, where do we go from here? We must become more involved in our children’s lives. We have to look for the warning signs, and if we see something, we have to say something, this is no longer an option. We must become proactive and not re-active. We need to bring Christ back into our homes, our families, our schools and our country. Tony Perkins said it best (still wish I would have said it) “To achieve security for our families and communities while preserving the freedom that has made America great, we have only one option: Restore morality by renewing our commitment to the free exercise of religion. In other words, we should protect, not prevent, religious freedom.”
Who is with me?
One day a man dies, who was a devout Christian. Saint Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and begins to give him a tour of Heaven. As the tour goes on, Saint Paul points out all the different Christians. "There's the Catholics, there's the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Presbyterians", and so forth. As they come to this one group way off to themselves, Saint Paul motions for the man to come closer and whispers. "Now, for this next group, we need to be really quiet. They are the Baptists and they think they're the only ones in Heaven."
Okay before my Baptist brothers and sisters start sending me hate mail or requesting to be removed from the mailing list you must understand I grew up Southern Baptist. I can remember Baptist preachers insinuating this in some of their sermons. So give me some freedom here. We all have our specific beliefs that makes us who we are, if not there would not be all the different denominations. So, I can joke about my roots in the Baptist Church. But what I can’t joke about is when we put together training at a church that is open to everyone and other denominations will not come to that training just because of that reason. Why do we develop safety and security teams? We do it to protect the flock. This should be universal across the board for every safety team, no matter what denomination. You create these ministries to protect the flock. Isn’t this what it is really about?
Several weeks ago I was asked to come and do a security assessment at a local Mosque. This was just after the New Zealand shootings. I jumped at the opportunity to serve. Isn’t their families and children just as important as ours. I had seen the raw uncut video of New Zealand shooting. The slaughter of innocent women, children and elderly people was devastating and should not be experienced in any religion. You will band together to protect the schools whether they are private, public, charter or any other variation. Why should church safety be any different?
We were invited to Venice, FL by the Venice Police Department to do our church safety training. When we first kicked it off, we immediately got over 150 church members signed up and by training day we had over 300 signed up for the training. The amazing thing was that there was every know denomination there. Over 80 churches, we even had a Jewish Synagogue. I asked the question if the participants believed in miracles because having Baptist, Methodist and Catholics agree on anything was a miracle. What frustrated me if we had gone to any church in Venice with any known denomination, we would have only gotten 20 percent of those that we had at this training. Why? Because the police department was hosting the training and not a church. Most have the mindset of, hey if the police department is hosting something it must be the real deal. We must change our mindset, if it is about protecting the flock, it doesn’t matter the denomination, it is the real deal.
All of my years in police work we were always training. We had to have 40 hours of recertification training every four years just to hold our position on the department. We would go to classes to learn of other ways to handle people in crisis or how to do proper traffic stops. Other things would occur across the country and we would look at each other and think to ourselves we are not ready for this if it happened in our jurisdiction. An example, Columbine, 1999. Before Columbine our agency’s response to any active shooter situation was to surround the parameter, wait for the SWAT team to arrive and then let them decide to breach or not. Columbine changed all of that and we started active shooter training and because there were six other cities next to us, we started training with their agencies police departments.
When I started working with Belleair, I understood that we sat in the middle of three jurisdictions, south was Pinellas County, north was Clearwater and east was Largo. I knew nobody in the agencies, so I went to all the county networking meetings. It didn’t matter if it was on burglaries, robberies or sexual assaults, I went to them all. We shared information on what was going on in our cities and it gave me a network of detectives with the same mindset of mine, catching bad guys. Building these relationships anytime we had crimes close to the Belleair boarder I would contact the jurisdiction next to us and see if they were having the same issues and if they had a suspect. We on so many occasions were looking for the same suspect so by sharing information we were able to get these people off the street faster than by working alone.
Brothers and sisters, bad things are still happening against churches. Read the papers, shootings are still occurring, vandalisms appear to be on the rise and if church goers were aware of how many sexual assaults have happened across the country, they might not let their children go back to church. We must understand that we live in a fallen world and attacks on church property is not slowing down. In fact, to us it only seems like it is getting worse.
Please understand I am not a person that thinks every weekend there will be a shooter waiting to come into a church and up the body count from Sutherland Springs. But I would be a fool if I didn’t think that every weekend there is a possibility of an ex-husband who has reached the end of his rope and finds himself in a very dark place. He may be contemplating if this weekend he will wait for his wife at her church to hurt her. What if that wife decided to leave your church for fear of running into her ex-husband? You understand her fear because of his violent past. Are you prepared and will you share that information to the other church safety teams so they can be ready in case the husband shows up on their campus looking for his ex-wife?
In our church sometimes I feel we have seen everything. We have had the prophets, the panhandlers, those that have mental-health issues that ranged from being violent to just needing extra attention. We’ve had sexual predators, impostors and disruptive attendees. Everyone one of these we have listed has either come from another church or have left our church and went to another only to start up where they left off at their previous church. So why is it that church safety teams refuse to get together and share information about what they have seen in their own churches? This is not gossip, this is being proactive and protecting the flock.
Brothers and sisters, if you have a safety team leader in your church that tells you they don’t need outside help, I would tell you that person is not the right person for your safety team. I am considered by many an expert in my field, but I still read articles, go to seminars on church safety and have a whole network of professionals I can reach out to for help on a question I might have. It would be prideful if I thought I was the be all to end all and we know how God feels about pride. Don’t let a prideful safety team leader put your church in danger. We are all working on this together.
There should be no competition in the safety of the flock. I see no competition in my field as a consultant of church safety, I see others in this line of work as my brothers and sisters in protecting the flock. I heard it once said, ““Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:38-40 (NIV).
I know who is against us and he loves that fact that we as Safety Team Leaders are not working together for the Kingdom of God. You see if we were to unite maybe we could stop some incident like Sutherland Springs or The New Zealand shootings. Maybe we could change laws to create better protection for the churches. Please come and join us at our networking meetings and let all of us work toward the protecting of God’s people, His chosen, His sons and daughters. I pray that you will leave behind whatever stops you from coming to a Church Safety Network Group meeting. Go to our website Trinitysecurityallies.com for information on our next networking meeting and join us on our new Facebook Group.
God bless you for what you do and look forward to seeing you soon.
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.