PLAIN CITY – A Plain City church plans to conduct active shooter training with its congregation later this year.
Specific dates have not been set at Darby Grace Brethren Church, located on South U.S. Route 42, but Administrative Pastor Rick Bean expects training to take place this winter. The congregational training was proposed after Bean, Lead Pastor Dan Hermiz and three other men on Bean’s security and safety team attended an active shooter training session in Columbus that was tailored to clergy.
The training, designed to teach civilians to respond if a shooter opens fire in their vicinity, was conducted by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in coordination with the Fraternal Order of Police.
The Nov. 21 session, at which 17 churches were represented, was the office’s second mass training tailored for religious leaders, Deputy Tony Casper said. Deputies were spurred to reach out to church leaders in the Columbus area after a man opened fire in a South Carolina church last June, killing nine.
Attendees are taught to ADD – avoid, deny, defend.
Using deadly force if necessary, is a scenario that gives Bean no qualms, he said.
A civilian response
Though some trainees paraphrase “avoid, deny, defend” as “run, hide, fight,” Deputy Casper never uses that vocabulary.
Those words are based in fear, he said, adding the training focuses on empowering and building confidence.
“When a shooter confronts you, the worst thing you can do is nothing,” he said. “We don’t want you hiding and waiting to be rescued.”
Deputies open an active shooter training session by reviewing a brief history of U.S. shootings. The goal is to make the attendees aware of what’s happening and how often it’s happening, Casper said.
Then they move to the acronym.
Avoid the shooter if possible — know a building’s exits, and make sure more than one exit is available.
Deny the shooter access — put up a barricade between yourself and the shooter while you search for a different way out of the building.
Defend yourself and disarm the shooter.
Pastor prepared to defend
“The news is just full of shootings,” Bean said a couple weeks after the training. “I don’t think anybody or any place is safe.”
Bean saw the information about the civilian active shooter training on the news. As the pastor in charge of safety, he felt it would be beneficial to attend, he said.
He estimated approximately 60 individuals from various churches across central Ohio, driving from as far as Chillicothe, attended the roughly six-hour Saturday training.
“One of the things they left us with was that need to create a culture of awareness of safety and security within the congregation,” Bean said.
The day after the training, Bean made changes to his church’s interior to make it more defensible, he said.
He worked to be aware of objects located near entryways and doorways, added exterior lighting and rearranged furniture so church-goers would have objects, such as hymn books or chairs, to throw at an intruder.
“You might think that you’re safe in Plain City, in a small, rural church with cornfields all around, but the truth is, evil is out there, everywhere,” he said. “Particularly as Christians, we seem to be hated for our faith. Others want to kill us and hurt us.”
Christians must be prepared for attack and prepared to defend themselves, using deadly force if necessary, he said.
“There’s no need to think you must fight fair,” Bean said. “You certainly never want to take somebody’s life. However, from what we saw — we watched (video footage from) Columbine — it was terrible, terrible, terrible. There’s no way you can talk them out of it. They know police will arrive in four to five minutes, and they will kill everyone they can.
“With those facts, I don’t have an issue taking an evil person’s life,” he said.
Meeting evil head-on
Steve Rodgers, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of London, offered a different view on the issue. He believes that taking a life is “contrary” to the Gospel.
“We live in a perplexing time,” he said. “What evil is in the world is inside of every one of us potentially.”
Christians should meet that evil with goodness, Rodgers said.
“If that results in the loss of your life, that’s what takes place,” he said. “You meet evil head-on, but not in like kind.”
That does not mean he would allow someone to gun down his congregation, he said.
“I like to think I’d have the courage to run and embrace the shooter, and my congregants could get away, or something like that,” Rodgers said. “I accept the fact that I’m sounding like an idealist, but if I surrender to this hateful season in our nation and world, all I’m doing is adding to the chaos we’ve already created, and I refuse to do that.”
He respects the different view of his Plain City colleague, and he speaks for himself, not necessarily for the United Methodist Church, he added.
Before Christmas, Father Mark Ghiloni of St. Patrick Church of London received a directive suggesting priests have police officers protect Christian masses in case the larger-than-usual gatherings became terrorist targets.
“I didn’t bother,” he said. “We have so many police officers in mass, I never feel unsafe.”
Preparing for attacks on houses of worship is a “new area” for religious leaders, he said.
“The Catholic Church has always said you have a right to defend your life against unjust oppression. That’s as far as it goes,” Ghiloni said. “We’ve always said you have a right to life, including to defend your own, but we don’t say you have a right to kill somebody.”
Pastors from several other area churches were not available or did not return calls for this story.
Active shooter training among church leaders “caught fire” once law enforcement began reaching out to them, Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Casper said.
“I’m not surprised, because when I think of church, I think of community. We take care of each other,” he said. “Something like the tragedy in South Carolina makes it relevant to churches now.”
The draw has not been limited to Christian congregations, he added.
The training for church leaders was tailored by including more examples of shootings that occurred in houses of worship, and offering safety recommendations with a sanctuary setting in mind, as opposed to a school, courthouse, hospital or business.
The tactics can be applied to different situations, Casper said.
“The tactics we teach are common sense,” he said. “Having them in your mental toolbox, knowing what to do in these situations, that’s what’s key.”
The training included running scenarios in which officers fired guns loaded with blank rounds so trainees would learn the sound of gunfire.
Equally important as avoid, deny and defend is to comply with law enforcement commands once officers arrive on scene, Casper said.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office conducted 120 active shooter training sessions in 2015, reaching more than 3,000 people. At the end of the year, the office already had 13 training sessions scheduled in January and a mass training session, limited to 300 people, slated for February.
The training is free to attend.
For more information, contact Casper at [email protected].