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The 2009 Reformation Lutheran Church Shooting

The Killing of Dr. George Tiller

A man carring a gun inside a church building
An article in the series Lessons from Church Shootings

From the Bible

Moreover Johanan the son of Kareah ... came to Gedaliah to Mizpah, And said unto him, “Dost thou certainly know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites hath sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to slay thee?” But Gedaliah the son of Ahikam believed them not. ... Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword, and slew him (Jeremiah 40:13-14; 41:2).

And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother … So Joab, and Abishai his brother slew Abner (2 Samuel 3:27, 30).


A person intent on killing someone will look for an opportunity, even if it means going into that person's place of worship to catch him unawares. If there are security measures in place, the killer will look for weak points to get through. This is what happened with George Tiller. His assassin found him at church.

Featured Resources

The featured resources for February are Protect My Ministry (an organization providing background checks and other personnel-related services), A Code to Live By (a free download), and "Protecting Children from Abuse v4" (a training module in the Safety Member Certification program).

Protect My Ministry

Frequent news stories remind us of how critical it is to screen persons in the church who work with children, youth, and vulnerable adults. Are we able to conduct these screenings well enough to ensure the safety and welfare of those to whom we minister? Considering the time and expense involved, only larger congregations can conduct background checks and complete follow-ups of references on all volunteers, as well as staff and the pastoral team. Is there a firm that offers these services at rates a medium-size or small church can afford?

There is at least one organization fitting this bill: Protect My Ministry. A sample of the services offered is Background Checks, Paperless Solutions, Child Safety Training, and Deeply Discounted Pricing For Ministries.

Your church can sign up with Protect My Ministry as an affiliate of Sheepdog Church Security.[1]

A Code to Live By: Childcare Code of Conduct

You can get the free downloadable resource for February, A Code to Live By: A Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct for Your Church's Safety Ministry, by clicking *HERE*. This PDF has a description of the Code followed by the code itself, "Childcare Giver's Statement of Commitment," which begins with, "I recognize the special place God has created for children," and continues with nine statements. The first one is, "Never harm, or allow to be harmed, children, either physically or mentally."[2]

Protecting Children from Abuse v4

Children are the most vulnerable persons in our society, including our congregations. It is vital and morally imperative that we protect them.

Protecting Children from Abuse is a key training module in the Safety Member Certification program. The seven modules in this training program are designed to equip members of the Church Safety Ministry in protecting the flock. Passing the certification test for each training module will certify the student as a Safety Member for two years. The modules are available as individual online training, group classroom training, and live online Zoom classes.[3]

This subject is also covered by an article in the Church Security Guide, "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults."[4]

An Assassination

This shooting was not a random act of violence. It was neither a spill-over of domestic discord, nor a continuation of personal animosity. It was an assassination.

The Assassin Comes to Church

On Saturday at 5:30 PM, a visitor attended the Evening Vespers at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. This was the weekly time of hymns and prayers to prepare hearts for the next day's morning worship services. For this visitor, it was a different kind of preparation. Church members became suspicious because of the questions he asked them after the service. It turned out that he had plans for the following day.

The visitor arrived at 10:03 Sunday morning as members were arriving for the second service while greeters at the door were handing out leaflets. He walked in, came back to one greeter from behind, pulled out a pistol and shot him in the head.

As the greeter fell to the floor dead, two ushers tried to apprehend the gunman. He threatened the first and ran out the door. He threatened the second, who'd followed him outside, then got into his car and drove away. A third usher read his license number.

With the descriptions of the car, the driver, and the license number, the Kansas State Police soon found the suspect 170 miles to the east, headed to his home in a suburb of Kansas City.

The Target

Dr. George Tiller was the assassin's target. He was nationally known for performing late-term abortions and was the target of many legal attempts to shut down his clinic. However, not all threats and attacks were legal. He received many threats of injury and death, not only for him, but also for his family. These were not from right-to-life organizations, but from extremist individuals and groups, like the person who bombed the Atlanta Olympics and two abortion clinics in 1996 (he was already behind bars when Tiller was shot).

Years earlier, both of Tiller's arms were wounded in another assassination attempt and his clinic was bombed. After that, the clinic had fortress-like security, his home was watched by guards, and Tiller wore body armor and had bodyguards.

Anyone trying to kill Tiller had to do it away from the clinic and his home and not through the body armor. The assassin knew this. He selected a time and place where his target would be the least protected and the least on guard – his church.

An Anarchistic Assassin

It's no surprise that mental illness played a role in this incident, since it is a factor in so many church shootings. According to family members, the middle-aged shooter had been diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was 20. Not all mentally-ill persons are violent. Neither are all schizophrenics. Some are, especially if they do not submit to counselling and guidance. However, when these persons fall under certain influences or have certain personality issues, such as oppositional-defiant disorder, this can lead to disruptive behavior.

The assassin was not a stranger to legal trouble. He'd been in prison before. He was associated with a sovereign citizen group in Montana who rejected all government authority. By the time of this shooting, all or most of the group was in prison, mostly for one kind of fraud or another.

Having a reality-distortion condition and possibly oppositional-defiant disorder, he was easily persuaded by their claims. His former wife said that when he had trouble paying bills, etc. (because his mental illness made it hard to keep a job), someone told him that the income tax was illegal, as were most other taxes, and he was drawn into the movement. There he also became radically anti-abortion.

Thirteen years before the shooting, he was stopped for not having a license plate on his car, just a card saying, "Sovereign Citizen." He also had no driver's license, no vehicle registration, and no proof of insurance. A search of his car found the materials for making a bomb. His ex-wife later said they were intended for bombing an abortion clinic – this was the same year as the Atlanta Olympics bombing and two abortion clinic bombings. He was convicted for the explosives, but that was later overturned on appeal as an illegal search.

Apparently, at the time of Tiller's shooting, he was driving a car that was registered and licensed, most likely not by his own preference. At this time he was obsessed with ending abortion, focusing on Dr. Tiller. He mused about packing the church with anti-abortion protesters.


The assassination of Dr. Tiller brought condemnation, especially from those in the Pro-Life movement. The moral logic was, (1) murder is not a pro-life action, and (2) killing one doctor would not end abortions. As it was, Tiller's killing generated a lot of sympathy for the victim and for his cause. To some he became a martyr. Even though the most vociferous pro-lifers denounced the killing, many people looked at them as accessories to murder.

Protesters from Westboro Baptist Church (also in Wichita) showed up at a vigil for Dr. Tiller. Although there was tension and the trading of words, police were present and there was no violence.

Around the country, security was increased for abortion clinics and their staff. It did not make much of an impact on church security, since this was a targeted act not likely to happen in most churches. As to Reformation Lutheran Church, they have not revealed any security measures they may have taken. Also, it is hard to find any ECLA denominational literature or statements about local church safety & security. Several other denominations, such as Southern Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, and several others, advise congregations on safety & security.

Lesson Learned

Caution: Hindsight is clearer than foresight. This is not to criticize the church, but to learn a lesson with them. The lesson learned here is, Watch for Suspicious Behavior.

Dr. Tiller was usually accompanied by bodyguards. That Sunday, when he was to be a greeter, they were not with him. This indicates that he likely did not know of the visitor the evening before who aroused suspicion with his questions. Apparently those whose suspicions were aroused did not share them with someone who could alert those who could watch the door.

The suspicious behavior was observed by congregants. It was verbal: the number and kinds of questions asked. The suspect may have had some visible indications of his state of mind, but mentally-disturbed persons are often good actors. Maybe he was smart enough to not take a gun on Saturday, since that could have aroused even more suspicion.

It is important to take note of any suspicious behavior in and around the church. Many criminals case a church before committing their crimes. Visiting a church during a scheduled event gives them an inside look at the church as well as the opportunity to find out details through ordinary conversation. In this case, it appears the shooter found out where Dr. Tiller would be, at what time, and what he'd be doing.

If trained Safety Team members had known that a stranger was asking a lot of suspect questions, they could have kept a watch on the individual and reported it to the Team Leader or the Safety Director. As it was, that church apparently did not have a safety team in place (this was 2009). Members of the congregation should know that there is someone to whom they can confidentially report suspicious behavior.

In this case, since the church leadership knew of threats to Dr. Tiller, he could have been alerted if they had known of the strange visitor. Then he might have brought his bodyguards with him. Ushers and the other greeters could have had a description of the suspect (or at least have known that a stranger was too nosey and a probable threat) and watched out for him. Police protection could have been requested. Also, since at this time many states did not allow guns in church, if someone saw indications of a weapon on a person matching the description of a suspicious individual, it would have warranted stopping him.


Store employees often see this sign: "See something? Hear something? Know something?

Say something!" People in the church should be willing to report suspicious activity to church leadership or to the Safety Team, and they should be encouraged to do so.


Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Sheepdog Church Security sign-up link, Protect My Ministry, 2021 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, "A Code to Live By," Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [].
  3. Kris Moloney, "Protecting Children from Abuse v4," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  4. Kris Moloney, "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].

News Stories

  1. "Assassination of George Tiller," Wikipedia [].
  2. "Montana Freemen," Wikipedia [].
  3. "Sovereign citizen movement," Wikipedia [].
  4. Staff Reporters, "A Brief Profile of Scott Roeder," Washington Post, June 2, 2009 [].
  5. J-W Staff and Wire Reports, "51-year-old man arrested in murder of George Tiller outside his church," Lawrence Journal-World, May 31, 2009 [].
  6. Joe Stumpe and Monica Davey, "Abortion Doctor Shot to Death in Kansas Church," New York Times, May 31, 2009 [].
  7. Hurst Laviana, "Ushers say Roeder pointed gun at them," The Wichita Eagle, April 3, 2012 [].
  8. Ed Pilkington, "For years anti-abortionists tried to stop Doctor Tiller. Finally a bullet did," The Guardian, June 1, 2009 [].
  9. Ed Pilkington, "Abortion doctor George Tiller was shot at close range in church, court told," The Guardian, July 28, 2009 [].
  10. Roxana Hegeman, "Man Confesses to Shooting Kan. Abortion Provider," ABC News, November 9, 2009 [].