California Church Reeling from Shooter Incident
Resources to help churches prepare for the unthinkable.

On Sunday morning, a gunman walked into New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ in Richmond, California. Flanked by two hooded companions, the three men scanned the pews, possibly searching for specific targets. Church members attempted to approach the men to ask them to remove their hoods, but before they reached them, one man began firing into the pews. The five shots made a popping sound, according to witnesses. Caught in the fire was a 14-year-old, who was hit in the shoulder, and a 19-year-old, who was struck in the leg. Both were hospitalized and are expected to survive.

Although the shooter acted too quickly for church members to respond, they correctly identified that these men posed a potential threat to the congregation. A free article on our sister site,, outlines a basic strategy for recognizing and dealing with dangerous people.

One tip: Be alert to bizarre behavior. For example, a person who is sweating profusely, not engaged in the service, or appears uneasy may indicate that this individual is thinking about–ready to engage in–unlawful activity. It's important to be alert for dangerous behavior during any activity held on church property. This includes time before, during, and after worship (especially in crowds of people), at special events such as weddings, and during evening hours.

Although violence at churches appears on the rise (our sister publication Christianity Today covered this trend in its October 2009 issue, providing specific statistics that show this increase here), a separate chart by Christianity Today shows the odds of dying in a church shooting are 1 in 18.4 million. Still, church leaders need to know how to respond to a shooter. The following resources may help:

• "Confronting Gun Violence at Church" and "Creating a Safety Team"–two downloadable resources to help churches prepare for the unthinkable.

• "Violence in the Church"–a free article on by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company.

• "Shooter in the Church"—an article from our sister publication, Leadership journal, offering tips from a veteran police officer.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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