Lessons Learned from a Church Shooting
From the Bible
- Gedaliah did not heed this warning and was killed:
- David heeded Michal’s warning:
- Jonathan warned David of his father’s murderous intention:
- Paul’s nephew warned him and a Roman officer of a plot against Paul’s life:
- David posted a watchman to cover the area outside the wall of the city:
There are times when one or a few people standing between a deadly threat and many people risk their own lives to save others. This is the way it was in Colorado on December 9, 2007 in two places. At the first place two of those who stood in the way died; at the second place it was the gunman who died. In both places, many more were spared.
There are four featured resources for November: a Church Security Guide article ("Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation"), a training module (Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4 in the SDCS Training Academy), a free download (Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis), and an affiliate membership (in the Worship Security Association).
Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation
This is one of nine articles in the Church Security Guide. Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation is a key topic, since successful de-escalation can prevent violence and the use of force above the second (vocal) level (see the article "Colors of Force"). It is quite detailed with six headings:
- What Is Verbal De-escalation?
- Why Do People Become Disruptive?
- Threat Assessment
- Skills to De-escalate the Situation
- Using Words to De-escalate the Situation
- Final Thoughts on how to De-escalate the Situation 
Deescalating Disruptive Persons
Deescalating Disruptive Persons v4 is one of seven modules in the Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy. It covers what verbal de-escalation is, the causes and warning signs of disruption, and how to defuse (de-escalate) developing disruption. The courses can be taken individually (online) or as a group (classroom). Taking and passing all these courses qualifies a person for certification as a Sheepdog Safety Member.
Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis
Click *HERE* to receive Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis. This free download is much briefer than the Church Security Guide article, but it covers the basics:
- Causes of a behavioral emergency,
- Symptoms of a potential behavioral emergency,
- The potential for violence, and
- Verbal de-escalation.
Worship Security Association
Simon Osamoh, a law enforcement and security professional, founded the Worship Security Association to help churches understand safety and security in places of worship. The videos, with Osamoh and several other experts, cover most aspects of church security, including verbal de-escalation. This additional training will broaden your knowledge and understanding of church safety and security. Sheepdog Church Security affiliate memberships are available.
Killings on Two Fronts
One person was the killer in two mass shootings about 80 miles and almost thirteen hours apart on a cold December day in Colorado.
About 12:30 am on December 9, 2007, a young man who five years earlier had been in training at the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) center in Arvada, Colorado, and asked to come in and stay the night. He had been dismissed from the program in 2002, and had recently sent hateful and threatening letters to them.
The hospitality director, who knew him and knew of his threats, refused. The young man pulled out the 9 mm handgun he was carrying and began firing. The hospitality director and another person were killed. Two others were wounded. The man got into his vehicle and left. Survivors gave police descriptions of him and the vehicle. A lookout for him was sent out, and the shooting was reported on radio newscasts.
New Life Church
The young man went home for a while, then went south to Colorado Springs. There, he called someone he'd met while in training at YWAM. She lived near Colorado Springs. He compared the YWAM shooting to one that happened a few days earlier in Omaha, both as third-person events. However, when the call ended, the woman realized she'd just talked with the YWAM shooter.
Catch Them Coming Out
At 1:00 pm, the 11 am service at New Life Church ended and people began leaving for the parking lot. The young man set off smoke bombs by two entrances. Presumably this was a diversion. Maybe he hoped to create a panic and have people rushing out through the doors. This would have made a nice batch of targets for him.
As it was, he began shooting at those nearby in the parking lot, beginning with a family. He killed two teenage girls and wounded their father. Then he wounded another person and dinged several vehicles. With 1,000 rounds of ammunition in his bag, he didn't worry about running out of bullets.
Now To The Building
He headed for the East Entrance of the church and shot through the door. An older veteran inside was wounded. Then he headed for the Main Entrance.
The Security Director of New Life Church had heard the news about the YWAM shooting and suspected the killer would be headed their way. He called the entire security team to duty and had them guarding all entrances.
The killer came in the Main Entrance. One security guard at some distance away saw him, called to him, and hid. The killer turned his direction.
Behind the killer another guard, a former police officer, rose out of hiding, held her gun in a ready-to-fire position, and called out, "Police! Drop the gun!"
The killer turned around to point his AK-47 in her direction. She fired, hitting him five times. He went down. There he died. Investigators finally determined that the killer died from a self-inflicted shot to the head from the 9 mm he'd carried in a pocket. The killer's toll, other than himself, was four dead and five wounded.
Legacy of a Misfit
The shooter had deep personality issues, even though he was raised in a deeply religious family and was home-schooled.
He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) at age 5. Acquaintances described him as "socially awkward." He had bouts of anger, especially with his mother, and from his comments, postings, and letters, he held deep resentments. This included how he was raised, which he described as "psychological abuse."
Apparently, he had mental issues. Someone who slept in the same the room at YWAM said he rolled around at night muttering. When asked about it, he said that he was answering voices. His choice of music, when he had a chance to perform, was at the least not the content expected in a missionary setting. It actually frightened the others. He tended to look to the dark side of life.
The overall symptoms may lead some to think he was autistic and/or schizophrenic, while a few might suggest demon possession. When he was dismissed from YWAM, his health was cited as an issue. Looking back, it seems to have been mental health.
His instability, which may have partly been from Adult ADD, led him to drop out of a community college and a Christian university. On the religious side, he had been involved with several churches and was baptized by the Latter Day Saints.
The year leading up to the assault was a dark descent. Files and search results on his computer revealed a fixation on mass killings and killers, such as those at Columbine and Virginia Tech. He wrote about his hatred of Christians - especially Pentecostals and Evangelicals - calling them hypocrites. He expressed his desire to kill as many as he could.
His primary target was YWAM, where he had been dismissed from the program - a five-year long grudge. He evidently didn't say why his next target was New Life Church, but a book found in his vehicle was written by the person who exposed sexual indiscretions by the former pastor of New Life who'd resigned thirteen months earlier.
It Could Have Been Worse
The killer had the 9 mm gun on his person when he asked to stay the night at YWAM Arvada. Had he been let in, he could have shot more than four and killed many times two.
At New Life Church, he shot five people, killing two. There were many more in the sanctuary. Had he not been stopped in the foyer, the toll could have easily been dozens.
The notoriety of the two shootings in Colorado led more churches to consider taking security measures, especially with armed security teams. This was highlighted led to the concern of Jeanne Assam (the one who shot the killer) that those who carry concealed weapons to church should be trained not only in how to fire a gun, but in how to respond and when to use or not use it. She stressed that her police experience had trained her for that moment.
Carl Chinn, the founder of the New Life Church security team, went on to catalog deadly violence in places of worship and to train churches in security. He is the founder of the Faith Based Security Network and the author of Evil Invades Sanctuary.
There are two lessons learned from this double incident: Heed warnings (which was done), and Guard the outside (which wasn't done).
At YWAM, the killer had already threatened them. They took it seriously enough to not let him in. At New Life Church, the warning was not direct, but they had reason to believe they might be targeted. The security team was put on full alert and planned to stop him if and when he came in.
Guard the Outside
Hindsight is much better than foresight. Our best learning is from experience. When the security team at New Life Church prepared for a possible armed invader, they did not expect the shooting to begin in the parking lot. Before this attack, the killing usually began when the killer came inside, as happened at Wedgewood Baptist Church in 1999. Since the New Life Church shooting, several shootings have begun outside.
Now the recommendation is to have Safety Team members in church parking lots. They can keep the surfaces safe in wet or freezing weather, be alert for safety and security concerns on the grounds, direct traffic when needed, and be available for injuries and medical emergencies. Then they are already there when criminals show up: vandals, thieves, persons to be watched for, and armed attackers.
On December 9, 2007, if an outside guard had seen the killer placing the smoke bombs, he or she could have monitored him and stopped him when he pulled the rifle out of his vehicle.
When we receive a credible warning, take heed and be ready to stop an armed intruder. If there are team members outside, they may keep the killer from getting to the door.
There Is More
This is the last article for November. The other four are: "The 2007 Neosho First Congregational Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned), "Dialing Down the Heat" (Dealing with Disruption), "On the Radar" (Warnings of Disruption), and "A Calming Conversation" (Conversational Engagement with a Disrupter).
Sheepdog Church Security Resources
- W. Vaughn, "Colors of Force," Sheepdog Church Security, October 18, 2021 [/articles/colors-of-force/].
- Kris Moloney, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, 2020 [/verbal-de-escalation/].
- Kris Moloney, "Safety Member Certification," Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/bundles/safety-team-complete-training-course].
- Kris Moloney, "Behavioral Emergencies: Dealing with people in crisis," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2019 [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/c225ce3542].
- W. Vaughn, "An Abundance of Counselors," Sheepdog Church Security, June , 2021 [/articles/an-abundance-of-counselors/].
- Simon Osamoh, Worship Security Association (Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link), 2021 [https://worshipsecurity.vhx.tv/?code=sheepdog].
- W. Vaughn, "1999 Wedgwood Baptist Church Shooting, Fort Worth, Texas," Sheepdog Church Security, January 18, 2021 [/articles/wedgewood-baptist-church-shooting/].
News Stories and Online Resources
- Tom McGhee, "Church shooter wanted to be missionary," Denver Post, December 10, 2007, Updated May 7, 2016 [https://www.denverpost.com/2007/12/10/church-shooter-wanted-to-be-missionary/].
- Howard Pankratz, "Murray obsesses with guns, shootings," Denver Post, March 27, 2008, Updated: May 7, 2016 [https://www.denverpost.com/2008/03/27/murray-obsesses-with-guns-shootings/].
- Kirk Johnson and Dan Frosch, "Police Tie Colorado Church Shootings to One Gunman," New York Times, December 11, 2007 [https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/us/11churches.html].
- "2007 Colorado YWAM and New Life shootings," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Colorado_YWAM_and_New_Life_shootings].
- "Ted Haggard," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Haggard].
- Nicholas Riccardi and Deedee Correll, "Guard saved untold lives, officials say," Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2007 [https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-dec-11-na-shoot11-story.html].
- Katie Eastman, "Why the woman who stopped a 2007 church shooting rejects 'good guy with a gun' title," 9News, November 6, 2017 [https://www.9news.com/article/news/local/why-the-woman-who-stopped-a-2007-church-shooting-rejectsgood-guy-with-a-gun-title/73-489767682].