FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – A small town sense of safety was shattered on Sunday when a gunman walked through the doors of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and opened fired. Churches are supposed to be places of peace. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the case.
It was 1999 when a suspect killed seven people and shot seven more during a youth prayer rally at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth. The shooter then killed himself. And, in 2005, a gunman shot four people in the tiny town of Honey Grove, in Fannin County.
The most recent church shooting happened only six weeks ago. One person was killed and seven others were injured when a gunman opened fire at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Tennessee.
The tragedy also brings reminders of June 2015, when Dylann Roof killed nine people during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof was sentenced to death last January. Pastor Eric Manning said that he knows how painful this is for those in Sutherland Springs.
Manning said that it is important for people to use these tragedies as reminders that we need to love each other, and to come together even more as a community. But he also thinks that it is time to discuss some major issues. “My sincere prayer is that we begin, as a country, to really begin to talk about gun violence and things of that magnitude,” Manning said.
Indeed, the incident on Sunday has experts looking at how to keep something like this from happening again. Church security is pushed back into the forefront as congregations look for ways to turn their places of worship into community safe havens once again.
Anthony Williams is the police commander for the Dallas County Community College District. He also holds security seminars for North Texas churches. He teaches de-escalation — knowing when it is best to run and hide, and when it is time to fight and defend. It all starts with preparedness.
“We talk about prevention, however, there’s also a response continuum that we teach as well,” Williams said on Sunday. “The government tells us to run, hide and fight, or to avoid, deny as well as defend. There’s an element of fight there so we teach the churches, sometimes, we have to make that decision to protect our churches.”
Williams looks at what churches can do — from the parking lot to the pulpit — to help keep the faith, but understand that these shootings are a real threat. “What we try to do is, we try to prepare our churches to find that balance between faith, as well as reality,” Williams said. Much of it is about knowing what is forseeable versus what is actually preventable.