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2020 Glorious Church of God in Christ Shooting

Lesson Learned from a Church Shooting

Man holding a gun in a church

An article based on the training module “Active Shooter Response” in the Safety Member Certification program [1] 

From the Bible

For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence (Proverbs 4:17).

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise (Proverbs 20:1).

Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them (Isaiah 5:11)!

But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way ... (Isaiah 28:7).


Goodhearted people sometimes become victims of those they help. Most of the time, the offense is theft or property damage. Sometimes, it is violence, ranging from hitting and kicking to deadly force, as at the Anna Prayer Counseling & Retreat Center near Frederick, Maryland (see the May 15 article), and (as in this article) at the Glorious Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn, NYC.

Videocast and Show Notes

Kris covers the incident in this article on a Sheepdog Church Security Academy videocast (the audio is on a Church Security Roll Call podcast). You can subscribe to it. Under the video screen is a link to the Lessons Learned Download (the Show Notes / article summary). It is for this article until the next Lesson Learned videocast is posted.[2][3]

A Heart to Help

The Glorious Church of God in Christ (GCOGIC) in Brooklyn is an inner city congregation that has been a beacon of hope to the down and out for a long time. 

Edward James, nicknamed Swayne (or Swain), had been an alcoholic living on the streets of Brooklyn in New York City. Then the GCOGIC helped him find God and be delivered from alcohol. He lived the rest of his life helping others to overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol, as well as helping the homeless and the elderly. This included providing food and clothes. He was also a caretaker of the church on the corner of Halsey and Marcus Garvy. Swayne’s heart to help the down and out is what led to his death at the end of August 2020. 


One of the people Swayne was helping was a drug addict living in his car in the Bronx. He needed a place to keep some of his belongings, so GCOGIC let him store them in a place at the church. 

On August 31, 2020, the man tried to enter the church late in the afternoon. Swayne was working at the Halsey Street entrance. For some reason, he told the man he could not come in at that time. The man insisted, and Swayne wouldn’t budge. It may have been because of signs of being under the influence, or trying to bring drugs or alcohol in. We don’t know, because Swayne never had a chance to tell us. We do know that this was the time when the building was being locked up for the night, so it was also too late to let the other man in. 

The man had a handgun. He became angry and pulled it out. Swayne tried to run away into the vestibule. The man fired the gun, hitting Swayne four times in the back. Then he fled. Somehow, Swayne managed to get up to the second floor, where he collapsed. That’s where EMTs found him by following his trail of blood. He was pronounced dead at the hospital. A witness seeing him being carried out on a stretcher said he had a big hole in his back. 

Alcohol, Drugs, and Homelessness

The shooter, who was 39 at the time, had a criminal history going back more than a decade. In 2020, a charge of criminal possession of a loaded firearm was added to that of murder. 

Ten years earlier, in 2010, he had been sentenced to prison for, among other things, criminal possession of a weapon, 2nd degree. There were other charges related to this, since an appeal of the weapon possession stated that it was part of the more serious crime with which it was linked. The sentence for 2nd degree criminal possession was four years. The less serious 4th degree charge had been dismissed by the trial court. 

Inmate records show his present age as 42. He had been in a New York State prison, and the criminal possession of a weapon, 2nd, was the only conviction named. He had been released. It appears that there may have been another crime involved. How this relates to the incident at GCOGIC is that this record could and should have been known to those in the church leadership. 

Other than the 2020 shooting and the 2010 conviction and sentencing, there is nothing else found in public online searches about the shooter.

The Aftermath

Edward “Swayne” James, age 62, died of his wounds. He was mourned not only by his family, other church members, and the neighborhood, but by many around the city and the country. His family was not wealthy. A Go Fund Me account raised $2,660 to help with funeral expenses, about half of what was needed. 

A press conference with his family was attended by the then President of Brooklyn Borough, Eric Adams, who is now New York City Mayor. Just two days after the shooting, the Bishop (senior pastor) of GCOGIC blamed “systemic racism” for the circumstances that led to the incident. 

New York City public officials focused on gun control as the solution to violence in Brooklyn. However, the suspect had previously been convicted of criminal possession of a weapon, and was charged with that in this case. This means that, despite laws and regulations, a criminal was still able to obtain a firearm and use it. 

As to security at the Glorious Church of God in Christ, Google Maps street views show a wrought iron fence around the building as far back as 2011. From the news descriptions of the crime, the gate for the main entrance may have been open. However, the victim was running away into the vestibule after barring the assailant, who shot him in the back, so the man could have fired from outside the locked gate and hit James as he ran through the door. 

The difference between early news accounts and later ones reveals either a delay in seeing surveillance footage or a lack of it. Street views do not show any indication of cameras as late as last September. 

Lesson Learned: Be Aware of Security Risks

One does not have to be hard-hearted to be aware of security risks. This is especially true when helping persons who have a record of violence or activities that often lead to violence, such as drug use. The suspect in this case had a past record of illegally using a weapon and had a problem with alcohol and drugs. Even someone showing improvement in overcoming an addiction may have a relapse. 

The truth is that even when and where weapons are illegal, they are not unavailable. In certain neighborhoods, such as where the Glorious Church of God is located, it is risky to be working outside alone simply because of street crime. 

According to reports, Swayne was outside alone. He had apparently locked the gate before going in to lock the doors when the suspect tried to come in. If a safety team member had been with Swayne, he or she could have been a protective presence, close enough to the gate to try to knock the gun away when it was pulled out. In a city where they most likely could not be legally armed, a baton would be handy; so would pepper spray. 

Here’s a summary of protective measures:

  1. Have a security presence, even outside
  2. Have security cameras outside 
  3. Know the risks of people you help
  4. Watch the person’s demeanor and be alert for signs of agitation or anger
  5. Be watchful for weapons, especially with people who are security risks
  6. Stay close enough to be able to fend off weapons
  7. Have backup
  8. Be ready to call 911


When you are helping people who have addictions and behavioral issues, be aware of the risks. This is especially true when the person has a history of violence. 

Training Notes

Sheepdog Church Security has training resources for you. Safety Member Certification has eight training modules: 

  1. Safety Team Fundamentals
  2. Active Shooter Response
  3. Deescalating Disruptive Persons
  4. Protecting Children from Abuse
  5. Basic Use of Force Laws
  6. Arson and Fire Safety
  7. Storms and Disasters
  8. Mass Trauma Emergencies

Three training formats are available: Team Certification (church-hosted classes), Individual Certification (self-paced online instruction), and Online Events (live Zoom classes). The 2022-2023 season (school year) for Online Events ended on June 4, but the 2023-2024 season will start in the Fall. Those who enroll now will still be able to participate, since the enrollment is good for a year.[1]

Another training resource is the Church Security Guide with nine articles, each on a different aspect of church safety & security:

  1. Introduction to Church Safety and Security
  2. How to Conduct a Risk Assessment
  3. Church Safety Team Basics
  4. Fire Safety in the Church
  5. Preparing Your Church for Natural Disasters
  6. Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church
  7. Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force
  8. Disruptive Individuals: How to De-escalate the Situation
  9. Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training

Articles 3-9 cover the topics of the first 7 training modules. They can be used to preview a topic before taking the class, then used later to review and refresh it. Number 9 relates to this article.[4][5]

On Deck

“Confront and Comfort” (Responding to Abuse) is the article on deck for next week.


Sheepdog Church Security Resources

  1. Kris Moloney, “Active Shooter Response,” Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 []. 
  2. Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Academy, YouTube []. 
  3. Kris Moloney, Church Security Roll Call, SoundCloud []. 
  4. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 []. 
  5. Kris Moloney, “Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training,” Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 []. 

News Accounts

  1. Joe Marino and Kenneth Garger, “62-year-old caretaker fatally shot at his Brooklyn church,” New York Post, August 31, 2020 []. 
  2. Christine Pelisek, “Beloved 'Mayor of the Neighborhood' Fatally Shot at Brooklyn Church Where He Worked,” People, September 1, 2020 []. 
  3. Anna Quinn, “Clergy Mourn Beloved 'Mayor Of The Street' Shot At BK Church,” Patch, September 1, 2020 []. 
  4. Eyewitness News Staff, WABC, “'He would help everybody': Beloved caretaker fatally shot in back inside Brooklyn church,” ABC News, September 2, 2020 []. 
  5. Kenneth Garger, “Man charged with murdering 62-year-old NYC church caretaker,” New York Post, September 3, 2020 []. 
  6. Jonas Bronck (a pseudonymn), “Moriyah Lewis, 39, Arrested For The Murder Of Edward James, 62,” Bronx Daily, September 3, 2020 []. 
  7. CBS New York City staff, “Suspected Arrested In Church Caretaker's Death,” CBS News, September 4, 2020 []. 
  8. Georgett Roberts and Kenneth Garger, “Family of slain NYC church caretaker relieved alleged killer arrested,” New York Post, September 4, 2020 []. 
  9. Todd Maisel, “Police arrest homeless man in Brooklyn church caretaker murder,” AM NY, September 4, 2020 []. 
  10. Peter B. Skelos, et al, “People v. Lewis,” New York Court of Appeals, June 13, 2012, Accessed through Casetext [].
  11. Anon, “Moriyah Lewis,” Inside Prison, no date of posting []. 
  12. Gary Fields and David Crary, “FBI data underscores rising threat to places of worship,” Times of Israel, January 1, 2020 [].