Church Shootings & First Baptist Church Maryville, IL

11 Mar

Last Sunday morning at about 8:15am, a man walked into First Baptist Church of Maryville, IL and walked to the front of the sanctuary and shot Pastor Fred Winters to death.

While we don’t hear about church shootings that regularly, I think we’d be foolish as leaders to ignore them or to adopt the “it will never happen to us” mentality.

I just came across this article and if you are a pastor or church leader, it is a must-read.

Churches are notorious for minimal security. While acts of violence at church are rare, recent shootings raise the question: what can leaders do to protect their people?
Work with local police

Learn their plans and capabilities. Most police agencies have adopted an “active shooter” philosophy. This means moving in quickly and removing a threat with lethal force, even before an organized evacuation or the arrival of negotiators.

Police may want a survey of your facility, including:

1. Blueprints and photos (digital or hard copy) of every room in the church to guide officers to secure the building.

2. Emergency contact information for the pastor, property manager, and members of the church crisis-response team.

3. Keys to outside and classroom doors.

4. Shutoff points for gas, water, and electricity.

5. Any knowledge of existing threats, including anyone against whom the church or a member has a restraining order.


Situational crime expert Ronald Clarke coined these steps for avoiding an active-shooter incident:

1. Increase early identification. A person with a gun drawn is an obvious threat. But attitude or body language can also suggest a threat. Greeters or church staff should extend a personal greeting to anyone who looks suspicious.

2. Reduce provocation. Train ushers to deny access, firmly but respectfully, to people who are unstable, agitated, angry, or intoxicated.

3. Limit access. A shooter will likely arrive after the service begins. Close sanctuary doors once a service begins and train ushers to meet late-comers and guide them to designated seating areas.


At times a lockdown may be the best way to protect the congregation. During a lockdown, certain areas of the church are required to shut, lock, and barricade their doors until police arrive. Those inside during a lockdown should stay away from windows and leave room lights on to ease the police team’s search. Before instituting such a policy:

1. Determine which church leaders can order a lockdown and under what circumstances.

2. Identify who can enter protected areas (such as the nursery), and how or if parents can retrieve children during a lockdown.

3. Provide telephones or intercoms that allow each lockdown area to communicate outside the building.

If a shooter gets in …

Leaders must be decisive. If the gunman targets a pastor or some other leader, those most visible should draw attention away from the congregation. If the shooter targets the congregation, direct confrontation is essential. This is dangerous, but you can improve your chances by distracting the shooter, yelling from multiple directions, and tackling him from behind.

Call 911 as soon as possible. Police will want to know the number of shooters, location of suspects, types of weapons, possible traps or explosives, and sensitive locations such as children’s areas. Stay on the line to provide real-time information to police on the scene.

When police arrive, stay on the ground until you are told to move. People have a built-in urge to run for safety. But movement creates confusion and complicates the situation for police. When you do get up, avoid sudden movements or any object in your hand that could be construed as a threat.

Andrew G. Mills is a lieutenant in the San Diego (California) Police Department.


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