Lesson Learned from a Church Shooting
From the Bible
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord (Romans 12:19).
To me belongeth vengeance and recompence ... (Deuteronomy 32:35a).
There are several contributing factors to church shootings. Vengeance on behalf of others was a stated motive for this church shooting, while mental illness was a possible correlated factor.
It was Sunday morning, September 24, 2017. Sometime after the morning service had begun, a blue SUV parked by the side of a small church in Antioch, Tennessee, an incorporated municipality enclave of Nashville-Davidson County. The occupant put on a black ski mask and got out of the vehicle carrying two handguns, leaving the engine running (two other firearms, including a rifle, were found in the SUV).
When the service had ended, a member of the church left and walked around the corner to her car. The man from the SUV shot her several times, killing her. He then entered the church through the main entrance and into the sanctuary, shooting as he went. By this time, people were running. Six were hit and wounded, including the pastor.
An usher rushed the shooter, finally grabbing the hand with the gun after being pistol-whipped. The two men struggled over the weapon. It fired accidentally, hitting the assailant in the leg. He went down, dropping the gun.
The usher picked up the attacker's gun and handed it to his father, who held the gunmen at bay until the usher returned with his own weapon. The shooter stayed in place until police arrived.
At least one classroom was locked down. A child heard gunfire and barricaded the room's door - a skill learned in school.
When the assailant's ski mask was removed, members of the church were in shock. This person had attended and been active in the church a few years earlier. He was an immigrant who came here 21 years earlier from an African nation when his Christian family fled persecution.
It is not clear why the shooter left the church. However, judging by his social media followings and posts, he fell under the influence of Black supremacy groups after he left. It was 2¼ years since the Emanuel AME shooting, and this individual wanted to avenge the crime of a White supremacist. A note in his SUV indicated that he intended to kill ten White persons for the nine Blacks killed in Charleston.
Before the attack, the assailant posted coded messages on social media sites.
His choice of a target church is ironic. Burnette Chapel is a multiracial, multi-ethnic congregation. It seems to be because he was familiar with that place, but not with any all-white churches.
The shooter did not have a criminal record. Nor did he have a history of mental illness. However, two years after the shooting, a state psychiatrist diagnosed him with a schizoid bi-polar condition.
The assailant was charged with one count of first degree murder and several counts of attempted murder. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The usher was called a hero for engaging the shooter.
The congregation has kept its membership during the 4½ years since the shooting. If there have been any security measures put into place since then, they are not publicly known. The church's website and Facebook page reveal nothing about an emergency response team.
Lesson Learned: Look outside
There is no way for someone in the sanctuary to easily see the parking area to the side of the church during a service without being conspicuous. However, someone inside a classroom or the restroom on that side can see out a window. This means a person can park on the side of the building during a service with little chance of being seen.
As you pull into a Walmart parking lot, look at the top of the front wall. Cameras are there. Once you spot one, you'll see others. Several crimes have been solved, thanks to images from those cameras.
Google Maps' July 2019 Street View did not show any outside cameras on the church building, so if there are any cameras, they are either concealed or installed after the date of the street view.
Here are some suggestions for knowing what is outside:
- Find a way that safety/security volunteers can see outside with no hidden areas. Installing cameras with a monitoring system is now less expensive than installing new windows. If well-positioned, they can cover areas that can't be seen through a window.
- Have safety team members monitor the parking lot and other areas outside.
- Conduct at least one patrol during each service. Members on patrol look for signs of suspicious activity.
- Additionally, know where former members are and what they are doing. If you can, keep in touch and/or have someone follow them on social media. At the least, a friendly relationship can be maintained. On the other hand, the Church Safety Committee or the Threat Assessment Team may become aware of concerning developments - such as threatening social media posts - in time for intervention.
Outdoor security camera systems vary widely in price. Some cost thousands of dollars, but there are others that range from less than $400 to about $800. Choose a system that can be monitored in real time.
Some church shootings begin outside the building then come inside. Three examples are those at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Barnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee. .
Videocast Show Notes (Lesson Learned)
"2017 Burnette Chapel Church of Christ Shooting" is covered by Kris Moloney in a videocast with emphasis on the lesson learned from this incident. This is through the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy. You can subscribe to this channel.
Beneath the video screen in the Comments section (you may have to click "Show More") is a link to the "Church Shooting Lessons Learned Download" show notes (essentially an article summary). Lesson Learned show notes are available for a month from the posting date.
Church Security Guide
"Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training" in the Church Security Guide has information about how to prepare for and respond to active shooter incidents.
All Church Safety Teams are encouraged to have all their members trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program. Among the seven training modules is "Active Shooter Response v4." A soon-to-be-added module will be on medical response, which will be needed if there is an active killer in the church.
Training is available in three formats: in-person classes, individual online training, and live Zoom classes.
There Is More
This is the first article for June. The others are "Shut Out, Shut In" (Lockouts and Lockdowns), "Relieving Tension" (Calming Tempers through Verbal De-Escalation), and "Building Resistance" (Educating Children against Attempted Abuse).
Sheepdog Church Security Resources
- Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel, YouTube [https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTrrcSlOn6zG1ySOHYzQkdQ].
- Kris Moloney, "Church Shooting Lessons Learned Download," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2022 [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/lessons-learned].
- Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/active-shooter/].
- Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Sheepdog Church Security Training Academy, © 2019 [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/].
- Lucinda Shen, "At Least 1 Person Was Killed in Tennessee Church Shooting. Here's What We Know," Time, September 24, 2017 [https://time.com/4955114/antioch-church-nashville-tennessee-shooting/].
- "Burnette Chapel shooting," Wikipedia [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnette_Chapel_shooting].
- Daryl Johnson, "DOJ opens a civil rights investigation of Antioch shooting," The Southern Poverty Law Center, October 12, 2017 [https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/10/12/doj-opens-civil-rights-investigation-antioch-shooting].
- Daniella Silva, Tim Stelloh, and Tracy Connor, "Suspect Charged With Murder in Mass Shooting at Tennessee Church," NBC News, September 24, 2017, Updated September 25, 2017 [https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/one-killed-eight-shot-church-shooting-tennessee-n804321].
- Dave Boucher, Joel Ebert, Natalie Allison, Nate Rau, Anita Wadhwani, and Nancy DeGennaro, "How the Nashville church shooting unfolded: A timeline," The Tennessean, September 25, 2017, updated September 26, 2017 [https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2017/09/25/how-nashville-church-shooting-burnette-chapel-church-christ-unfolded-timeline/700049001/].
- Jonathan Mattise, "State: Man in church shooting aimed to kill 10 white people," Associated Press, May 20, 2019 [https://apnews.com/article/f3d7b3eed1f7450bac1bc78caf61d4c6].
- Natalie Neysa Alund and Nate Rau, "Nashville church shooting suspect made cryptic Facebook posts," USA Today (from The Tennessean), September 24, 2017, updated September 25, 2017 [https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/09/25/nashville-church-shooting-suspect-cryptic-posts/699082001/].
- Dakin Andone, Justin Gamble and Amanda Watts, "Shooter kills one, wounds 7 at Tennessee church," CNN, Updated September 25, 2017 [https://www.cnn.com/2017/09/24/us/tennessee-church-shooting/index.html].
- Christopher Mele, "Man Convicted in Deadly Church Shooting in Tennessee," New York Times, May 24, 2019 [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/24/us/tennessee-church-shooting.html].