Responding to an Active Killer
In the Bible
If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him (Exodus 22:2).
- The Law recognizes the right to defend against a hostile intruder, even with deadly force.
But he took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory (2 Samuel 23:12).
- Shammah stood his ground against violent enemies.
And an edict was written ... saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives (Esther 8:9b,11).
- Under Persia, the Jews were allowed to defend themselves.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it (Proverbs 22:3).
- Hiding is often the wise thing to do.
So Michal let David down through the window, and he fled away and escaped (1 Samuel 19:12).
- Michal helped her husband David to escape from those who wanted to kill him.
In the News
In each of these news stories, what was the response in that church to its encounter with an active killer? Did it save lives?
Colorado Springs, Colorado, December 9, 2007 - Several hours after killing two and wounding two at a ministry site near Denver, a young man drove into a church parking lot in Colorado Springs while congregants were leaving after a service. He got out of his vehicle and began firing at people, killing two sisters and wounding their father and another person. Entering the foyer of the church, he was engaged by two security team members. One distracted him by yelling. As the assailant aimed his gun, another team member fired at him with her gun. The attacker was wounded in the exchange of gunfire, then took his own life.
Dangerfield, Texas, June 22, 1980 - A man armed with two rifles and two handguns burst into a church during the Sunday morning service shouting, "This is war!" Several members had declined to testify for him as character witnesses at his incest trial the next day. The burst of gunfire killed two adults and a 7-year old girl. Then a man wrestled him to the door and was shot and killed. Another man wrestled the attacker the rest of the way out. He, too, was shot and killed. The killer went across the street, shot himself, but survived and was arrested.
Knoxville, Tennessee, July 27, 2008 - When a man motivated by hate began shooting in a Knoxville church on a Sunday morning, members of the congregation moved in on him and wrestled him to the floor, where they held him until police arrived. As it was, he killed two and wounded two. There would have been more casualties if the members hadn't taken him down.
Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 5, 2017 - An assailant dressed for battle killed two people outside a church, entered a side door, and walked up and down the aisle shooting people in their pews. Firing over 700 rounds in 11 minutes, he killed 26, including his wife's grandmother and the pastor's daughter. There was no resistance until he was confronted by the church's neighbor when he stepped outside. He died of a self-inflicted wound after a high-speed chase.
White Settlement, Texas, December 29, 2019 - A man wearing a wig and fake beard aroused the suspicion of the security team when he came into the church. During the service he stood up and pulled out a short shotgun, killing first a man serving communion, then a security team member pulling out his handgun. Another team member had his gun drawn, firing when he had a clear shot. One bullet ended the attack.
Get our free download, Active Shooter Situations. It briefly outlines active killer situations on one page. The second page is a checklist of what to do if an active killer begins shooting at your church. If you're not already subscribed to the weekly Sheepdog Church Security newsletter and The Church Guardian, this will sign you up. To get it, click here.
What Do We Do Now?
If and when an armed attacker shows up at your church, exactly what you should do depends on the immediate situation. However, if your Church Safety Team has been trained and drilled in active killer response for different situations, they should know what to do in the situation at hand. Also, if the congregation has gone through active shooter drills, they should know what to do, depending on where they are at the time.
First, we need to communicate meaningfully. Work on the Tower of Babel stopped because the workers could not understand each other (Genesis 11:7-9). We need a common language to work together effectively. This means using common terms and knowing their meanings. Here are a few terms used when discussing or responding to an active killer: Active Killer, Cover, Concealment, Soft Target, Soft Lockdown/Lockout, Lockdown, Fatal Funnels, Unification Point, Mindset.
- Active Killer: Commonly called an "active shooter," this is someone intent on killing many people.
- Cover: Anything that will stop bullets.
- Concealment: Anything which hides a person from view.
- Soft Target: A relatively unprotected location, organization, or person.
- Soft Lockdown/Lockout: Locking exterior doors to keep a killer outside.
- Lockdown: When the killer is in the building, rooms with people inside are locked to keep the killer out.
- Fatal Funnels: Places where the killer is kept from moving to one side or the other. A place where the killer can be trapped and neutralized.
- Unification Point: An agreed-upon location where those who have escaped (evacuated) will meet.
- Mindset: Those attitudes or thoughts which increase your odds of surviving.
For the Congregation
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has released training materials on how to respond to an active shooter (active killer). The video Run, Hide, Fight is readily available and can be seen online.
The Sheepdog Church Security training course "Active Shooter Response" lists and describes skills people need to survive an active killer incident:
- Call for help.
- Engage the active killer.
Note how, with the addition of Call for help, these parallel Run, Hide, Fight.
Evacuate - In movies you may see one shooter opening fire inside while accomplices wait outside to mow down those leaving the building. With very few exceptions, church shootings in the United States and Canada are solo affairs. As the gunman moves in from his entry point, those farther ahead can move away and out, going to a unification point a safe distance from the church building and behind cover. The sanctuary is one example of a location which can be evacuated quickly.
Thanks to fire codes, the typical sanctuary/worship center/auditorium besides entry doors in the back, the sanctuary has exits on the side toward the front. The platform also has exits. In an active shooter drill, have those in the sanctuary take these exits, not the entry doors. Then, if they hear shots or "Lockdown! Lockdown!" they know what exits to use. If the entry doors to the sanctuary can be latched, train the ushers to do so to slow down the killer, and barricade them if they can.
Hide - For those who cannot escape, hiding is the best option. If you can, get behind something that provides both concealment and cover. In a classroom, office, or restroom, this means a lockdown. Close and secure the door (most classroom doors open to the inside so they don't intrude on the hallway). Secure it with a door jam/door stop and barricade it with furniture - the heavier the better.
Call for help - The first Safety Team member to know an attack is underway (or on its way) calls the Team Leader and alerts the entire team via radio, then calls 911 (congregants may also call), which will start first responders (fire, medics, police) on their way. The shooting will probably be over by the time they get there, so they will tend to the wounded, fight any fires that have been started, arrest the assailant if he is captured, and begin the investigation.
Engage the active killer - If you cannot escape and cannot hide and you are facing the killer, don't just wait to be shot or slashed. Actively engage him. Shout, yell, throw anything at hand at him. Try to tackle him. As a group, swarm him. If you can hide behind a corner, ambush him when he comes past you. Killers have been stopped when one or two people wrestled them for their weapons. As in the news stories, killers have been pushed out the door or pinned to the floor by congregants.
For the Safety Team
With a killer on the loose inside the church (or outside trying to get in), there's no time to wait for the police. The killer must be engaged NOW. If the killer is trying to break down the door or smash windows to get in: this is a perfect fatal funnel. You know exactly where he is and can fire at him. If he is killed, that's the end of it. If wounded, he may keep on pounding while losing strength, or may retreat. If he does retreat, note the direction he goes and whatever vehicle he enters (here's where outside surveillance cameras are invaluable).
If the killer is inside, activate the containment team and the engagement team. The containment team guards key areas of the building, such as the Children's Department, the hallway to most classrooms and the fellowship hall, or the offices. The engagement team attempts to trap and stop the killer. Most active killers are suicidal and will not stop until killed, incapacitated, or immobilized.
Do not be passive when you encounter an active killer. Know what to do and how to do it. Be flexible enough to adjust to a fluid situation. It will be over by the time police arrive - hasten the end.
There Is More
The other articles in this Active Shooter series are "Our Wall and Our Shield" (Hardening the Church against Active Killers) and "The Aftermath" (Following the Shooting).
- Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Sheepdog Church Security Courses: Training Materials for Classes [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills-training-bundle]; Individual Online Training [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills].
- Anon, "Two US Christian centres attacked," BBC, December 20, 2007 [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7135729.stm].
- George Merritt (Associated Press Writer), "Shooter's family 'groping for answers'," Beaumont Enterprise, December 12, 2007 [http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CHURCH_SHOOTINGS?SITE=TXBEA&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2007-12-09-23-11-41%3A]. Wikipedia, "Daingerfield church shooting," [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daingerfield_church_shooting].
- Wikipedia, "Daingerfield church shooting," [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daingerfield_church_shooting].
- Anon, "Alvin Lee King III, charged with storming a church...," UPI, January 19, 1982 [https://www.upi.com/Archives/1982/01/19/Alvin-Lee-King-III-charged-with-storming-a-church/4408380264400/].
- J.J. Stambaugh, "Takedown of alleged shooter recounted," Knoxville News Sentinel, July 29, 2008 [https://web.archive.org/web/20080729184422/http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/jul/29/takedown-alleged-shooter-recounted/].
- Dakin Andone, Kaylee Hartung, and Darran Simon, "At least 26 people killed in shooting at Texas church," CNN, November 6, 2017 [https://www.cnn.com/2017/11/05/us/texas-church-shooting/index.html].
- AP Staff, "Police: Parishioners kill man who fatally shoots 2 at church," AP, December 30, 2019 [https://apnews.com/article/f254ff50cdaf3c8ec9fc4a2ebf0b8cda].
- Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Situation Checklist," Sheepdog Church Security, 2020 [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/35d259d229].
- Staff, "Active Shooter Preparedness," Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, no date [https://www.cisa.gov/active-shooter-preparedness].
- Staff, "RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.® Surviving an Active Shooter Event - English," City of Houston, Ready Houston, © 2012 [https://www.cisa.gov/active-shooter-preparedness]. Accessed on YouTube from link on DHS site.
- Gotega Door Stopper, Kickdown Door Stop, Sheepdog Church Security Store [https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07SHKQWWM/?ref=exp_instructor_moloney_dp_vv_d].