So far in 2017, there have been 108 deaths at either churches or on the property of faith-based organizations, which is a record number surpassing the old record of 77 deaths in 2015.
This death total includes 26 people killed during a shooting at a Texas church last month that only ended after an armed nearby resident confronted the suspect.
“That blew my mind,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Shane Jacobs told a crowd of over 100 people gathered at Williamsburg’s Grace Christian Fellowship Monday evening about the statistic.
The audience of mainly preachers and church leaders from area churches and current and former law enforcement officers were there for a presentation on how to keep churches safe and what to do in the event of an active shooter at their place of worship.
KSP Detective Josh Bunch, a Whitley County native, noted that police aren’t going to pretend to have the answers.
“It’s a sad day when you consider that our churches are being attacked as well as our schools. The vulnerability of this thing hits close to home. It is a different room we all live in,” Bunch said.
“We would encourage you to be pragmatic and to think proactively. We don’t want to change the spiritual dynamic of church, but we would be remise if we didn’t consider that we live in a dangerous world. People perceive the church now as an opportunity to inflict a whole lot of bad.”
The advice the audience received is to develop a safety plan for facility, put together a small security team of four to five individuals, who are preferably armed, and have them train at least once a month on how to deal with various situations should the need arise.
Jacobs suggested that churches first look to people in their congregations for the security team, who are trained to deal with emergency situations, such as current or former police officers, military or volunteer firefighters.
Having the security team members take a carrying concealed deadly weapons classes would also be a good idea if the team isn’t composed of active law enforcement officers.
Jacobs emphasized that he isn’t suggesting the church have people standing guard with assault rifles.
He suggested that members of the security team keep their weapons concealed and be placed strategically throughout the building with someone also checking out the parking lot.
Jacobs noted the case of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting where the perpetrator pulled into the parking lot five to 10 minutes after church started, drove up to the door and then started stuffing guns into his pants.
A larger church may need a security team larger than five people, but officers warned against having too large of a team because in the event of an actual incident there could be people injured from cross fire.
Bunch noted that the security team should be made up of people, who can stay calm and react during an emergency.
KSP Lt. Bill Elliotte also suggested putting together a team with medical training, such as nurses, doctors and EMTs along with a kit so that the injured could be treated until emergency officials arrive, which could take several minutes.
In the event of a shooting, give 911 dispatchers as much information as possible about what the shooter looks like, what he or she is wearing, and the type of weapon they are using, such as a pistol or a long gun.
Run, hide, fight
Make sure that all windows and doors can lock.
In the event of an active shooter, people can take one of three actions, which are run, hide and fight.
If there is a shooting in the church sanctuary for instance, then people in a Sunday school class may be able flee the building or barricade themselves into a classroom.
Jacobs noted that if possible running is the best option. Hiding is the next best option and fighting is the last resort in the event of an active shooter, but a necessary one if you have no other options.
“If you can’t run and can’t hide, you have to fight,” he added. “If you don’t fight, you’re dead.”
In the event that happens, use anything you can as a weapon, including a chair or a book that could be thrown at the perpetrator.
Officers suggested several measures that churches can take to try and prevent violence on their property.
Don’t leave people alone in the building.
Jacobs noted an incident in Somerset where a church cleaning woman was alone in the building and got killed by a homeless man she was trying to help.
When the worship service begins, lock all doors except for one entrance, and station a member of the security team there to keep a lookout for people entering the building.
Elliotte added that Whitley County E-911 Director Jason Wilson is trying to get detailed diagrams of all churches in the county.
Grace Pastor Gerald Mullins added that the issue of security hit home for him after a police vehicle pursuit a few weeks ago with an armed man, who shot at police. The chase started with a traffic stop right outside his church.
“Unfortunately the events of the last few months and the last couple years have lead us as pastors and congregations to start looking at the possibility of something happening in our church,” Mullins noted.
For more information, contact Jacobs at (606) 573-3131 or KSP Trooper Lloyd Cochran at (606) 878-6622.