Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Death Day

Some time ago, 27-year old Terry Joe Sedlacek wrote a simple note in his planner for Sunday, March 8, 2009. Two words: “death day.”

Early Sunday morning, he loaded his gun with 10 rounds, took two additional magazines with 10 rounds each, and drove his red Jeep to First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois, where police believe he waited in the parking lot.

During the 8:15 service, Pastor Fred Winters was standing on the platform to deliver his message on happiness in the workplace, titled “Come On, Get Happy.” Sedlacek walked into the church late and walked to the front. He approached the pastor at the pulpit and they had a brief conversation.

At the end of the conversation, Sedlacek raised his hand, pulled out a gun and shot at the pastor. The bullet hit the top of the pastor's Bible, creating a shower of confetti. The congregation looked on expectantly, believing this to be a skit. Sadly, it wasn’t.

Pastor Winters ran towards the edge of the stage, with Sedlacek chasing parallel to him. The Pastor jumped off the stage and started to run toward the side aisle. Sedlacek came alongside the Pastor and fired three more times, hitting the Pastor once in the chest, before his gun jammed. Sedlacek then pulled out a four-inch knife and turned away. Two church members tackled him and pinned him between the pews. During the struggle all three were injured. Meanwhile, Pastor Winters ran toward the side aisle, but collapsed on the floor halfway up the aisle. He was rushed to Anderson Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

It was all over in a matter of seconds.

My heart and prayer goes out to that church and that family. I can't imagine the grief they must be feeling.

Unfortunately, in this dangerous era, churches often represent a soft target-- easy picking for those who would seek to do violence. Churches are supposed to be open to the public. Moreover, we are to be open to those who are angry and hurt. There are those, however, who rather than seek solace or healing, come with the sole purpose of spreading their private hell.

That’s when we need to be prepared to fight back. And be prepared to fight back with sufficient force to end the threat. There are times when retreat is an acceptable and preferable option. However, if an armed attacker is engaged in an active attack against us or our loved ones, and cover is insufficient, we prepare to attack. We use whatever means is at our disposal to stop the attacker.

Unfortunately, in this case, many were understandably shocked, and stuck to their seats. Two brave men pushed aside their fears and attacked, with no regard to the fact that they might be injured in the process. And they were.

Everyone is shocked when there is a violent event in a church. After all, these things are not supposed to happen. However, there seems to be resistance toward churches taking effective measures to protect themselves from armed attack.

Now, I am not sure if this church had armed security. If they did, I’m not sure where they were. I do know this—the tragic event was over before anyone even thought of calling the police. And, I don’t know how long it takes police to respond in Illinois, but here in my city, the average police response is seven (7) minutes. Four hundred twenty seconds. Count them out. Go ahead—I’ll wait.

Although I have tremendous respect for our police officers, the bottom line is that they are not here to watch over us individually. They exist to protect the order of society, enforce its laws and apprehend those who have already broken the law. In many instances, by the time police are called, the threat is over.

Churches must be prepared for an active shooter scenario. We cannot rely solely on the assistance of the police, because there will likely be no time to call them. We need to ensure that security teams are properly trained and equipped to stop a violent attack.

Contact your insurance company (you do have one, right?) to see what leeway you have regarding armed security.

Make sure that you have a security team large enough to cover your entrances, as well as have a presence inside the church. Some of these should be easily identifiable; others should blend in with the crowd.
Be fully and completely aware of what the law is in your jurisdiction regarding use of deadly force, and the carrying of firearms. Make sure that your security team has members properly trained and certified to be armed security officers. Make this training mandatory, make it continuous, and make it challenging. Keep records.

Issue firearms to competent trained professionals under a defined policy. If team members supply their own, make sure they are properly maintained, duty-type firearms with effective, legal ammunition.

Security team members should be professional, alert, courteous, highly suspicious, and yet not draw attention. They will need to treat members and visitors alike in the same manner they would expect to be treated, yet they must also be ever vigilant.

Security team members should have assigned posts. No one should leave their post unless authorized. Any altercation can also be a ruse to draw security to/from an area. In case of an event, someone should be assigned to call for the police, so that everyone is not waiting for someone else to do it.

Team members should know that they are not the police. Their role is to prevent and intervene in situations that can pose a threat to the church, or those inside. Once the police get on scene, the police take over.

Protect your leaders. They set the direction of the church, and are the head that evil seeks to destroy. Have a defined intervention policy that dictates how far into the church someone can come once the service has started. Keep a trained eye on those who are greeting the pastors. Train to recognize signals of impending aggression, and be on the alert for possible hidden weapons.

I'm no security expert, and I hope these seem like common sense. Let's pray this never happens again. But let's train, not for "if", but for "when."

H/T to Murphy was a Grunt, Roanoke Cop

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