It’s not supposed to happen in churches, but it does.
In fact, there have been at least 13 deadly shootings at places of worship across the U.S. in recent years.
On Sunday, a church in White Settlement became the most recent number in that daunting statistic when a gunman opened fire at West Freeway Church of Christ, killing two church members.
Jack Wilson, a former Hood County reserve deputy and a firearms instructor, quickly took out the gunman with a single shot, potentially saving dozens of lives.
Wilson is part of the church’s security team.
The incident prompted us to ask local church officials what measures they are taking to keep their congregations safe during Sunday services.
Stephenville Police Chief Jason King said most local churches have security plans in place.
“We allow our officers to work off-duty security, so if a church wants to hire off-duty officers that is something that’s available to them,” King said.
And that’s exactly what Timber Ridge Church has done, according to Pastor Nic Burleson, who said the church began hiring off-duty police officers almost two years ago.
“The conversation for us started after the church shooting in Sutherland Springs at the end of 2017,” Burleson said. “At the time we had a volunteer-based security team, but at that point we thought we needed to step it up so that people feel safe and secure when they worship with us.”
Twenty-six people died and 20 others were wounded in Sutherland Springs, when a gunman walked into the small Baptist church and fired at least 700 rounds. The attack lasted an estimated 11 minutes.
Along with hiring an armed security guard, Burleson said parishioners on the church’s security team come to services armed as well.
“It’s sad that we live in a world where this is needed, but we have an obligation to our church members, their children and visitors to keep them safe and protected,” Burleson said.
Erath County Sheriff Matt Coates said all of his deputies who belong to a congregation with a security team are a member of it.
“We have talked to several churches in the county and helped with their safety plans,” Coates said. “It’s something we started doing a couple of years ago.”
Pastor Ed Dittfurth with Cornerstone Assembly said members of the church’s security team that are licensed to carry a concealed weapon have had additional training from local law enforcement officials.
“After our training the security team adjusted where they sit (during services),” Dittfurth said. “We also have cameras at every entrance to monitor what is happening and we keep two people at the doors during the entire service.”
Dittfurth said churches must also change the way they respond to strangers.
“My takeaway from Sunday is that we are going to have to be a little less friendly,” he said. “If someone comes to church wearing an overcoat and seems suspicious, we can be rude and tell them to take it off. That’s just the world we live in today.”
The gunman in Sunday’s shooting was reportedly wearing a disguise, including a fake beard.
‘WE HAVE TO BE VIGILANT’
With more than 700 members, Pastor Ken May with First Baptist Church leads one of Stephenville’s largest congregations and most sophisticated security plans.
“We have several security teams in place,” May said. “We have a law enforcement person and medical person on each of those teams.”
He said members of the security teams undergo training several times a year and “are very much aware” of the comings and goings both inside and outside the doors of the church during Sunday services.
“Safety is extremely important to us. We want our members to feel safe,” May said. “I told our team (Sunday) that we have to be vigilant. We are protecting the lives of precious people. The shooting in White Settlement was over in six seconds. Our security teams are important. If someone isn’t there immediately to help protect us, we could be in real trouble.”