A man armed with a shotgun entered worship services Sunday at a church in South Carolina. Quick—and courageous—action by attenders helped prevent a shooting.
The Huffington Post reports churchgoers watched through the church's windows as the 38-year-old assailant approached the building; half a dozen attenders responded when he burst through the doors, the website said.
As the man was led away by police he told reporters his children were recently taken away from him and he was "trying to get someone to listen to him," the site said.
Because of their accessibility, especially on weekends, churches sometimes receive visits from people who are troubled or upset. In a few instances, those people intend to do harm. Leadership teams can prepare ahead, though, to try and defuse a potentially dangerous situation. ChurchSafety.com offers the following preparation tips from its Confronting Gun Violence at Church training resource:
- Create a violence response plan. Form a team that will assess your church's individual situation, determine how to respond, and practice what to do if violence threatens the church.
- Improve building security. Security cameras, door locks, and panic buttons can all be helpful when trying to prevent a violent person coming in contact with the congregation. You might also consider modifying your building so that it can be locked in zones to provide secure havens for the people inside.
- Get experienced advice. Take advantage of those around you who have experience with violent intruders. Talking with emergency managers and police officers may give you some additional ideas for protection. Consulting a school system could also be helpful, since they usually already have emergency plans for strangers and possible threatening people entering the building.
- Consider armed security. Providing armed security at your church could ward off violent persons and provide an effective defense for your congregation. To help limit potential dangers and liabilities, church legal expert Richard Hammar recommends churches look into hiring off-duty police officers to handle these duties.
- Locate your exits. As a security precaution have an evacuation plan. If a violent person entered the church, how would you evacuate the congregation? Educating the congregation about your response plan will decrease confusion in the moment and possibly save lives.
- Prepare for the media. Your leaders should be prepared to respond to the media. A few ways to control your message: maintain an open mind, anticipate the media's questions, and select a central spokesperson.
- Contact your insurer. The first step in any crisis is to report the incident to your insurance agent immediately, no matter the severity of the claim.
For more assistance with training and planning, ChurchSafety.com also offers Dealing with Dangerous People, which offers tips and insights regarding how to approach and handle disruptive behavior.
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