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2019 West Freeway Church of Christ Shooting

Lesson Learned

Man holding a gun in a church

An article related to the training module “Active Shooter Response” in the Safety Member Certification program.[1]

From the Bible

King David praised God for helping him learn how to use weapons:
He teacheth my hands to war; so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms (2 Samuel 22:35 and Psalm 18:34).

Quick action by Abishai saved David's life:
And [one] of the sons of [Goliath] ... being girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succoured him, and smote the Philistine, and killed him ... (2 Samuel 21:16-17).


We do not know how many lives were saved by the quick and accurate response of one person who was trained and practiced in the use of his weapon.

Videocast and Church Shooting Lessons Learned Download

This article is covered by Kris Moloney in a videocast on the YouTube channel Sheepdog Church Security Academy (the audio is on a podcast). You can subscribe to keep up-to-date. Kris contributes from his own experience in law enforcement, the military, and church security.[2]

Beneath the video screen (you may have to click "See More") is the Church Shooting Lessons Learned Download link. This PDF is available for one month (until the next Lessons Learned article is posted). It can be printed for sharing with others, teaching, or presenting a case to congregational leadership.

Six Seconds that Counted

It was the last Sunday of 2019. A man wearing a wig, a fake beard, and a long coat walked into West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, and sat down near the back. A few pews in front of the man, a woman worked her way to where her husband was sitting. She noticed the strange appearance of the man and became uneasy. Sitting down, she told her husband that something was not right. The woman was not the only one noticing the man's appearance. Members of the church's security team noticed, too, and they kept watching him.

During the Meet-&-Greet time, the man stands up as others do. He briefly talks with someone, then leaves. A minute later he re-enters, says something to someone, and sits back down.

When it is time for Communion, the deacons went to the front, picked up the elements, and began serving. The strange man stood up, said something to someone in the window aisle who then pointed to the middle of the room. The strange man pulled a short shotgun from his coat, fired at a deacon carrying Communion bread, turned back and fired at a security team member drawing his concealed handgun. At the sound of gunfire, many parishioners begin ducking for cover or running for exits. Some drew weapons and began looking for the source of the gunfire.

In the back of the sanctuary, Jack Wilson, the security team leader, had been watching the man. He drew his gun and aimed, waiting for a clear shot. Six seconds after the shotgun was drawn, Wilson fired, downing the gunman with one shot to the head.

The Homeless Shooter

Not all homeless persons are dangerous. Whether one is homeless depends, in large part, on the reason for homelessness. The West Freeway shooter had his roots in White Settlement. He was homeless because of mental illness. He couldn't hold a job and often needed help. He did have relatives who lived in the area and could have lived with one of them, but chose not to.

Homelessness has become a major issue in several major American cities. Those who have worked with or studied the homeless conclude that the major causes of homelessness are mental illness, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Churches and faith-based organizations are working to help the homeless.

Not a Stranger

The shooter was not a stranger to West Freeway Church of Christ. He had come to them for help several times, and they gave him food, but not cash. According to the senior pastor, he was angry when he did not get cash. It is uncertain whether this was a motive for the shooting. The wig and fake beard may have been an attempt to not be recognized, since people at the church knew who he was.

The Tragic Date

The day of the West Freeway CoC shooting was the anniversary of the death of the shooter's brother. According to a relative of the shooter, he took it really hard, since the brother had committed suicide. He did not leave a note or online postings, so we cannot know for certain that this was what triggered the attack, even though it seems possible. Some have claimed the man was angered because the help he received was not cash, but we do not really know that either. We do know that dates hold important symbolism for radical terrorists, and may determine the timing of attacks. For someone emotionally disturbed and/or mentally ill, a death anniversary can lead to depression and irrational actions. If he was trying to get himself killed, then he succeeded.

An Arrest Record

The shooter was not a stranger to law enforcement. He had been arrested several times for a variety of offenses and different places (depending where he lived at the moment). At least one of these was for assault with a deadly weapon. He had also been arrested in Oklahoma for arson. Several arrests were for theft.


Three people died in the assault, the deacon, the wounded security team member, and the assailant. The deacon in this diverse congregation was an African American who had been a member of the church for decades and was liked and respected by all. He was, according to one news story, also a member of the security team.

The slain security team member was also a long-time congregant. He had been on the team since it had been formed a year earlier.

This incident garnered national attention. Being on December 29, it was the last big news story of the year. The way it ended also attracted much attention. Two years and almost two months earlier, the Sutherland Springs church shooting took place just after a Texas law went into effect allowing churches to have unlicensed security teams and before another law allowing concealed carry weapons in places of worship.

The way the West Freeway shooting ended showed the value of having armed and trained persons guarding the church. Wilson was able to stop the attack only six seconds after the shotgun came out of the coat. This was not just anyone with a gun and a holster. He knew how to shoot and when to shoot. He was a former law enforcement officer who'd not only been trained in tactical shooting, but drilled regularly on the range. Practice gave him the nerve to identify the assailant, hold the gun steady, and wait for a clear shot.

Not only Texas state officials, but law enforcement officials across the country cited this as an example of how trained and armed citizens could stop a crime in progress, and it encouraged other states to revise their use-of-force laws. Of course, there have also been intractable detractors.

News of this church shooting incident spurred an increase in the number of churches starting safety/security teams or seeking advanced training for existing teams.

Changes in security at West Freeway Church of Christ have not been made public. This is prudent, because it hinders criminals from finding a way around them. The Google Maps street views are from 2018, more than a year before, so any visible outside features added since then, such as cameras, cannot be seen on the map, at least for now. A church can request street views to be blocked or have certain features blurred out for security reasons.

Lesson Learned: Guard the Gate

This section is not to put down the church or its security team, but to learn from the incident so we can improve our security posture.

What was done right?

The West Freeway Church of Christ shooting highlighted one thing done right. They trained safety and security team members in how to respond.

When they saw the strange appearance of the man coming into the sanctuary, they kept an eye on him as a suspicious person.

They quickly reacted to the show of force when he pulled out the shotgun. He immediately shot two persons fatally, but got no chance at any others. The team leader was ready and steady, quick on the draw and holding his fire until he had a clear bead on the suspect.

What could be done if there's a next time?

There is another lesson to not be bypassed: Guard the Gate.

According to team members, the apparent disguise was noticed when the suspect came into the sanctuary. They kept watch on him. The security team leader even used one of the cameras to monitor him. However, he was already in the sanctuary. Grant Cunningham, a survival and security blogger, wrote that the shooting may have been avoided if the man had been stopped before getting to the sanctuary.[10]

The assailant evidently knew the usual order of service. He used the Meet-and-Greet time to exit then return. Was this to retrieve a weapon hidden outside?

It would be better for a problem person to be spotted at the door before or when entering the building. If a safety team member had been at the entry door, the wig, fake beard, and long coat would have been noticed. Then the member would have called for backup ("Orange in lobby, backup") then engaged the person in conversation while looking for signs of a weapon.

Here's where it is wise to lock the door after the service has begun. If the person did not have a weapon coming in, but leaves then returns, he has to have someone let him in. Check again for a weapon. Long coats are often used to hide a firearm longer than a handgun, for example a short rifle or shotgun, and sometimes weapons are left outside then retrieved later.

If a safety team member is not at the door, then a trained greeter should be there. Greeters need to know what to do when a suspicious person comes to the door. They need training. Tina Lewis Rowe has written and published Security Concerns For Churches: The Role Of Greeters and Ushers. The greeter must be situationally aware, know what to look for, and get help when needed.[11]

Additional Advice

Any use of deadly force has legal consequences, especially if there is serious bodily injury or a fatality. A lawyer will be needed in these cases. Jack Wilson placed a call to U.S. LawShield, and an attorney arrived at the church while the police were still there. Sheepdog Church has an affiliate relationship with U.S. LawShield.[5][12]

Training Notes

Each Church Safety Team is urged to have all its members trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program. There are eight training modules, including "Active Shooter Response v4." Taking all the classes and passing their certification tests will earn the student two years as a Certified Safety Member.

Three training formats are available: Team Certification (church-hosted classes), Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction), and Online Events (live Zoom classes).

Team Certification (church-hosted classes) can train the entire team at one time. A key advantage is the ability to ask questions and discuss the subject matter. The materials in the training bundles can be adapted to the local setting.

Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction) enables new members joining the team between classes (about two years apart) to be immediately trained. Also, a team member can train when he cannot not attend classes, such as when there's a schedule conflict with regular employment.

Online Events (live Zoom classes) can be attended by individuals and teams. Kris teaches these classes, which are held on Sundays at 3:00 pm Central Time. The first quarter of the 2022-23 Season begins on September 11 (Active Shooter Response is on Sept. 18, Nov. 20, Feb. 5, and April 2):

Online Events Schedule 2022-2023





Training Module


Sep 11

Nov 13

Jan 29

Mar 26

Safety Team Fundamentals


Sep 18

Nov 20

Feb 5

Apr 2

Active Shooter Response


Sep 25

Dec 4

Feb 12

Apr 16

Deescalating Disruptive Persons


Oct 2

Dec 11

Feb 19

Apr 23

Protecting Children from Abuse


Oct 9

Dec 18

Feb 26

Apr 30

Basic Use of Force Laws


Oct 16

Jan 8

Mar 5

May 7

Arson and Fire Safety


Oct 23

Jan 13

Mar 12

May 21

Storms and Disasters


Nov 6

Jan 22

Mar 19

Jun 4

Mass Trauma Emergencies

The Church Security Guide article "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training" is a detailed summary of the subject of responding to an active killer.[3][4]


The time and place to begin observing people should be when they come to the entry door.

There Is More

This is the first weekly article for September. The other three are "Outer Guard" (Stopping a Killer Outside), "On Hold" (Citizen's Arrest), and "Setting Boundaries" (Protecting Children with Preventive Procedures).


Sheepdog Church Security Sources

  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy on YouTube [].
  3. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, 2018 [].
  4. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, 2019 [].
  5. U.S. LawShield, Sheepdog Church Security affiliate link, [].

News Stories and Other Online Sources

  1. Claire Cardona and Chris Blake, "'Our Home Was Invaded by Evil': 3 Dead, Including Gunman, in North Texas Church Shooting," NBC 5 DFW, December 29, 2019, Updated December 30, 2019 [].
  2. Eric Levenson, Konstantin Toropin, Amir Vera, et al., "Texas pastor says he knew and helped the gunman before the shooting," Edition, CNN, Updated December 31, 2019 [].
  3. Anon, "No Indictments Issued Against Security Officer In West Freeway Church Of Christ Shooting," CBS DFW, September 28, 2020 [].
  4. Travis Fedschun, "Texas church shooting gunman grew angry in past over money requests, visited 'multiple' times, minister says," Fox News, December 31, 2019 [].
  5. Joshua Gideon and Grant Cunningham, "West Freeway Church of Christ Shooting Analysis," n.d. [].
  6. Tina Lewis Rowe, Security Concerns For Churches: The Role Of Greeters and Ushers, published 2008, updated July 2020 [].
  7. Jack Wilson and Katherine Reed (Atty.), "The Voice of a Hero: Jack Wilson's Story" (video transcript), U.S. LawShield, October 1, 2020 [].