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Mass Murder in Churches—What to Do?

In short, “run, hide, or fight.”  I have participated in several training sessions on how to respond to an “active shooter.”  This is a difficult topic to deal with in church, but we all know that such things happen in churches and, at the same time, we have some reluctance to talk about what to do.  They happen in schools, too, so even our young children are familiar with the possibility and with what to do in the event of a “lock-down.”  Conversations are ongoing among several members of our parish about preparing a plan to deal with mitigating this threat (and other risks as well).  The following points will serve as an initial plan of response that should improve our chances of survival.


First, when you become aware that someone is shooting, run.  During any emergency, most people run to the door through which they entered.  That door might be blocked by the shooter or it might be blocked by other people trying to run.  It is best to always notice all of the exits whenever entering a building or room—make a habit of it.  In our worship space, there is an exit to the left of the lectern at the bottom of the stairs.  It opens to the north and the parking lot.  Run north and scatter between the houses.  Another exit is to the right of the pulpit.  It opens to the south.  You will need to turn the deadbolt above the doorknob.  Get in touch with 911.  If you are being shot at while running, don’t run in a straight line.  It is much harder to hit a moving target than a stationary one, so your chances of survival have improved just because you are moving.


Second, if you cannot run away, then hide.  Find a closet, utility room, or other space. If the shooter has to go looking for people, then his rate of killing has slowed and more people are likely to survive.  If you have gone into another room, such as the conference room in the church office or the gift shop, consider barricading the door.  If the shooter comes to that door, then jump out the windows.  All of our windows are new and easy to open.  The sliding part, after opening, can be lifted out.  You might break some bones, but students at Virginia Tech who did this survived. 


Third, if the first two options are not possible, then fight.  How in the world can unarmed people resist a man with a firearm?  The point is to slow down the shooter’s rate of killing until the police arrive.  Episcopalians are especially well armed in this regard.  Throw prayer books and hymnals at him.  If many people do this then he will not murder as many people in a given amount of time.  This might sound like a sure way to die, and some will, but all of the mass shootings have shown that just hiding under a desk or pew will result in getting shot.  The Virginia Tech shooter even put targets in rows on the ground and was observed slowly walking by and shooting each one, which is exactly what he did to the students who tried to take cover under their desks.  If you fight and slow down his rate of killing, your chances of survival have improved and you have improved the chances of others too.


“Duck and cover” is precisely the wrong thing to do.  “Run, hide, or fight.”


I recommend this excellent and brief article from the Wall Street Journal.


Father Jonathan


November 2017 bulletins and newsletters at St. Peter & All Saints Episcopal Church, Kansas City, MO


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