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2017 Cathedral of the Cross Shooting

Lesson Learned from a Deadly-Force Church Attack

picture of a carnival swing ride spinning around

An article based on the Safety Member Certification training modules “Deescalating Disruptive Persons” and “Active Shooter Response.”[A.1]

From the Bible

A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife (Proverbs 15:18).

From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? (James 4:1)


Even with security and police present, tempers can flare, erupting in fights. These fights can escalate tragically, especially if firearms are involved. The question for us is whether we can intervene in time to keep the situation from escalating.


The 5,100 seat Cathedral of the Cross in Center Point, Alabama, had been owned by the Center Point Church of Christ (CPCOC), but was up for sale. It had apparently been used for CPCOC conventions. In 2011 the Cathedral was bought by the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God (AOHCOG), a Oneness Pentecostal denomination, to be their new international headquarters. Their previous cathedral in nearby Birmingham, Alabama, had been bought by the city and county's convention center for expansion.

Beginning in 2007, the Big Spring Carnival Extravaganza was a 5-day event held on the church parking lot in April. It was organized by an outside firm which rented the parking lot. The carnival does not appear on the church's posted list of events, and it began before the AOHCOG bought the Cathedral, so it was evidently not a church-sponsored event.

Apparently, the carnival has not been held since the shooting, at least not under the same name or in the same place.

The Cathedral of the Cross hosts a number of community benefit events, including food distribution, vaccinations, health clinics, etc.

Community Social Climate - The community climate of Center Point has changed since the city was incorporated in 2002. Between the 2010 census and 2020 census, the population declined by 515 persons (3%). By 2020, one third of the city lived below the poverty level, and the rates of crime and murder had risen, indicating that a culture of violence had developed among the youth. It appears that this culture of violence had already developed by 2017, and is what led to the shooting of April 15, 2017. Three other church shootings which can be attributed to a culture of violence are:

Sudden Halt to a Good Time

The Big Spring Carnival Extravaganza of 2017 began on Wednesday, April 12, and was scheduled to go into Sunday, April 16, but it was cut short by a day.

Saturday was the big day at the carnival. In the evening, the fair was crowded with 800 people, and another 100 were lined up at the gate to buy tickets. An argument among some teens outside the gate escalated into a fight. One of the teens who were fighting, turned and ran. On the way out he pulled out a gun and began firing low toward those he thought were following him. He claimed that he was firing into the ground to scare off the others from the fight. If that was so, and not just an excuse, he must have fired while still running, since five teens and a baby were hit, most in their legs.

The others from the fight were not the only ones scared. Shots being fired caused panic in the crowd, which began fleeing in all directions. Someone tore down a part of the fence and many poured through. In the rush a pregnant woman was knocked down and injured.

Sheriff's deputies and professional security guards were stationed at the carnival. Five teens were soon taken into custody for questioning then released. Other evidence was gathered, and a suspect was identified. He was found and arrested days later.

The Suspect

The shooting suspect was a 17-year-old boy. He was initially charged with firing a gun in an occupied public place. The following January he was indicted with seven counts of felony assault. Since he was a juvenile, there is little public information about his background other than he was a resident of Birmingham.

Later, at age 19, the suspect, who was still out on bail while awaiting trial for the Cathedral of the Cross shooting, was charged with capital murder for a drive-by shooting at a bar in Birmingham; in which one person was killed and four others were wounded. Since then he has been held without bail.

What Followed

On Easter, the day after the shooting, the bishop (senior pastor) of the church preached a message of encouragement and hope to his congregation.

None of the injuries were life-threatening. Nearly seven months after this shooting, the baby who was shot in the leg was almost wounded again in another shooting.

The carnival, which had been held since 2006, was not held again, at least not at this site. This may be an acknowledgement of the deteriorated community climate.

Lesson Learned

The intent here is not to criticize the organizer or the church, but to learn from this incident, thankful that the injuries were not fatal.

The primary lesson which can be learned from this incident is this:

Be ready to de-escalate disputes before they become violent.

First a caveat: with a large crowd, trying to detect disruptions before they boil over is difficult.

Analysis: Security at the 2017 Carnival

The owner of the event organization was a person with position and influence in city and county affairs who was pro law & order and supported the police. The previous years of the event had no shootings or other potentially deadly violence. She contracted sheriff's deputies and hired a professional security agency to provide security for the event. The carnival was fenced. "Search and seize" weapon-detection procedures were used at the gate, where a sign was posted which read, "NO WEAPONS OF ANY KIND ALLOWED."

The fight erupted outside the gate, where about 100 persons were waiting to buy tickets. News accounts did not say how many deputies or security personnel were in this area or how they were positioned. Neither do we know about their training, especially in de-escalating potentially violent situations.

Application for Us

How do we apply this to church safety and security? There may be some events either hosted or sponsored by the church which will draw large crowds from the community at large, not just from other churches. For instance, many churches around the country let antique and classic auto shows use their parking lots. Some may have community dinners or picnics in their pavilions, or let amateur and charity sports use their ball fields, courts, or gyms. To some extent, partly depending on local and state laws and court opinions, a church may be held responsible for incidents happening at these events.

It is good to have an appropriate level of security at a hosted event and to monitor those who come in. It is also important to extend security outside the gate, especially if there are many people waiting to get in. Use a mix of marked and incognito safety members. Have some of these mingle with the crowd, watching and listening for any signs of developing trouble. Since most of the visitors will be from the community, knowing the community's social climate is vital, especially if it includes a culture of violence.

Both inside and outside the gate we'll need team members (or hired security) who are skilled in verbal de-escalation. If a disruptive situation is developing, they may be able to intervene and cool heating tempers. A team member not as skilled can radio them for help if trouble is brewing.

Let's summarize it this way:

  1. Have enough safety and security personnel on hand for the expected size of the crowd.
  2. Post safety personnel skilled in verbal de-escalation.
  3. Station them both inside and outside the gate, wherever a crowd will be.
  4. Position safety personnel in the crowd, where they can see if a disruptive situation is brewing.
  5. Don't hesitate to call for skilled help.
  6. Be ready to call 911 if needed.


Always be ready to de-escalate potentially violent situations in a large crowd at a church-sponsored or church-hosted event.

Training Resources

While knowing how to respond to an active killer (whatever weapon may be used), it is better to de-escalate the situation if you can. This means having persons trained and skilled in verbal de-escalation. "Deescalating Disruptive Persons" is the third Safety Member Certification training module. All Church Safety Team members should be trained and certified though this program, whether through church-hosted classes (Team Certification), self-paced online training (Individual Certification), or live Zoom classes (Online Events).[A.1]

A second resource is the Church Security Guide article "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation."[A.5][A.6]

Kris covers deadly-force incidents - such as this one - and other topics in videocasts of the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy. The audios of these are in Church Security Roll Call podcasts.[A.7][A.8]

We have a free download, Responding to Behavioral Emergencies. Click *HERE* to get it.[A.9]

Additional information on verbal de-escalation is available at Worship Security Academy, a Sheepdog Church Security affiliate.[A.10]


A. Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response" and "Deescalating Disruptive Persons," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. WGV, "2010 New Gethsemane Church of God in Christ Shooting," Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, April 11, 2023 [].
  3. WGV, "2012 Victory for the World Church Shooting," Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, February 28, 2023 [].
  4. WGV, "2014 Word Tabernacle Church Shooting," Articles, Sheepdog Church Security, July 10, 2023 [].
  5. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  6. Kris Moloney, "Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  7. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy channel, YouTube [].
  8. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call channel, SoundCloud [].
  9. Kris Moloney, "Responding to Behavioral Emergencies," Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2019 [].
  10. Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link to Worship Security Association [].

B. Accounts and Online Resources

  1. "Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God," Wikipedia [].
  2. Greg Garrison, "AOH Church of God denomination buys Cathedral of the Cross for international headquarters,", November 8, 2011 [].
  3. Anon, "Center Point Spring Carnival," Bham Wiki, n.d. [].
  4. "Center Point, Alabama," Wikipedia [].
  5. Shannon Delcambre, "Five teens and toddler shot at carnival in Center Point," WVTM, Updated: April 17, 2017 [].
  6. The Associated Press, "5 teenagers, baby shot at church carnival in Birmingham," Tuscaloosa News, April 17, 2017 [].
  7. WBRC Staff, "5 teens, 1-year-old baby injured in shooting at Spring Carnival Extravaganza in Center Point," WBRC, April 16, 2017, Updated: April 17, 2017 [].
  8. Patrick Thomas, "'Prayer changes things'; Pastor of Center Point church not disheartened by shootings," ABC 33/40 News, April 16, 2017 [].
  9. ABC 33/40 News Staff, "Juvenile arrested in connection with weekend carnival shooting in Center Point," ABC 33/40 News, Updated April 18, 2017 [].
  10. News Staff, "Birmingham teen indicted on 7 felony assault charges in Center Point church carnival shooting," WVTM 13, Updated January 18, 2018 [].
  11. Trussville Tribune staff, "Birmingham teen facing capital murder charge in fatal drive-by shooting also awaiting trial for 2017 Center Point church carnival shooting," Trussville Tribune, December 4, 2019 [].
  12. Jonece Starr Dunigan, "Baby shot in leg at Center Point carnival nearly shot again in Birmingham,", November 7, 2017 [].