Neutralizing the Attacker
Protecting the Flock from Armed Killers
In the Bible
Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle (Psalms144:1).
For [David] took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine, and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel (1 Samuel 19:5).
And [Mordecai] wrote in the name of King Ahasuerus ... saying that the king allowed the Jews who were in every city to gather and defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them (Esther 8:10-11).
[Jesus] said to them, “But now ... let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one (Luke 22:36 ).
In the News
Colorado Springs, Colorado, December 9, 2007 - In a slideshow of eleven armed people who stopped armed killers and saved lives, the first is Jeanne Assam, who wounded the active killer at New Life Church.
Knoxville, Tennessee, July 27, 2008 - A hate-filled man who opened fire in a Knoxville church with a shotgun was wrestled to the floor by church members. One of the two killed stepped in front of the barrel to save others.
Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 5, 2017 - A next-door neighbor of the First Baptist Church heard gunfire and realized it came from the church. He grabbed his rifle, went outside, and yelled at the shooter, who came out to confront him. The neighbor shot and wounded the killer, who got into his truck and drove off. The neighbor hailed a pickup at a stop sign, got in, and they set out on a high-speed chase. The killer ran off the road on a curve, then killed himself.
Antioch, Tennessee, September 24, 2017 - An usher confronted the masked gunman who had killed a member outside and came into the church shooting, wrestling him for the gun and bringing an end to the rampage.
In the Bible passages above, David says the Lord prepared him to fight. When he struck down Goliath, he defended all Israel. About 550 years later, Mordecai sent out the King"s authorization for the Jews to defend themselves with deadly force. About 480 years after that, Jesus told his disciples it was time to be ready to defend themselves. In each of these passages, deadly attackers were to be neutralized, forcefully stopped.
RUN, HIDE, FIGHT
Businesses, agencies, and institutions around the nation are having their employees and staff watch "RUN, HIDE, FIGHT," a video produced by the City of Houston in coordination with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It shows people in an office building - employees and clientele - going about their business. A man with a back pack comes in. After passing a security guard, he pulls a shotgun from his pack and begins shooting. The security guard is first.
The cast of the video acts out responses to the attack. The first group is able to get out - they RUN. The second group goes into a room and executes a lockdown - they HIDE. The third group can"t escape and can"t lock out the attacker. They pick up whatever can be used as a weapon and rush the attacker when he comes in - they FIGHT.
Today"s lesson is, when you can"t run and can"t hide, fight!
Resisting a Church Attacker
The setting of the "Run, Hide, Fight" video is an office building, but the same defensive tactics apply in a church or school setting. We train church members to get out if they can when an active killer attacks. We train them in how to hide and how to lock out the attacker.
Some members of the Safety Team will help members escape or get them to a lockable space, while others will fight, engage the killer. But it is not only Safety Team members who need to know how to engage an active killer. Congregational members also should know they CAN fight back.
In the news stories above, only one of the people stopping a killer was a Safety Team member. The rest were church members and a next-door neighbor, and most were unarmed. They were there, and they did what they could.
A Crow Learns Its Lesson
In a folk parable, an older crow and a younger crow sat in a tree. A flock of starlings landed on the field. The younger crow said, "I"ll go down and get me a starling."
The older crow said, "Go ahead. I"ll sit here and wait for you."
A minute later, the harried young crow came back. He found out that starlings will swarm an attacker.
Swarming an Attacker
When trapped with an active shooter, take advantage of your numbers. He can shoot only so many at one time, and most will overwhelm him if, like the starlings, they charge him together. Here is what the Training Course says:
Escape and evasion should always be your first actions, but you may have to engage the killer.
- Turn chaos and mayhem into an advantage and try to escape the area.
- Cause sensory overload and distractions by yelling.
- Throw whatever is available at the intruder"s face.
- Find anything you have that can be used as a weapon.
- Swarm the intruder. Use large numbers of people to gain control. Keep your plan simple. Swarm the intruder and control his limbs. Never comply with an active killer"s demands. Do whatever it takes to survive. Recent events show that active killers are not interested in making deals or negotiating. They just want to murder as many people as they can.
Training for this can be fun for children. They get a kick out of screaming, yelling, and throwing. They also learn well, and anyone messing with them later will regret it. Adults will learn well too. Train by acting it out. You just need enough to start the swarm, and others will come along.
Engaging a Killer
In describing military or police actions, a battle, skirmish, or shootout is called an "engagement." The soldiers, marines, sailors, pilots, or law enforcement officers engage the enemy or suspects. When an active killer attacks the church, the Safety Team as a whole engages the attacker. The aim is to neutralize the attacker - stop him from attacking.
Sometimes a cornered suspect will surrender. However, a suicidal attacker will rarely surrender. He will be either incapacitated, killed, or pinned down - usually killed by defenders or by himself.
Safety Team members take up different roles in an engagement. The two major roles are Containment (Blocking) and Engagement. Depending on the situation and the layout and systems in the church, another role could be Monitoring.
The process of neutralizing an active killer names a Containment Team and an Engagement Team. These are not strictly set teams until there is an incident. Which role any team member fills is determined by the situation - where you are and where the killer is and is heading, so each Safety Team member should be prepared to fill any role.
The role of Containment is Blocking. This is keeping the attacker out of certain areas, such as the child care department or the sanctuary. When an attack begins, Containment Team members find fire-from-cover locations where they can aim at an approaching killer. They can overturn tables, chairs, or pews in the attack path to slow the killer long enough to (1) give time for more people to escape or hide, (2) provide a better shot as he goes over or around the obstacles, and (3) distract him so a defender can move to behind him. What you do depends on the layout of the area and the moves of the attacker."
The Engagement Team seeks to stop the killer. The two teams work to corner him in a fatal funnel, a place where he cannot move either way. This is the point where an attacker is most likely to engage in a shootout, or commit suicide. In rare cases, the attacker will give up, especially if he"s run out of ammunition. However, an out-of-ammo attacker may charge the defenders in a "suicide-by-cop" move.
With internal security cameras, a Monitor can track the attacker and tell the Team where he is. If he turns around, the Containment Team can conceal themselves and wait for him. If he moves on, they can advance to new defensive positions while the Engagement Team readies to meet him at the next corner. In some church layouts, the Engagement Team can split and surround the killer, trapping him in a corner where he can be engaged without endangering people who are hiding.
Armed team members should have their concealed carry permits and regularly practice shooting.
Prepare for engagement and containment. Using floor plans of the church, note possible attack routes from likely entry points. Where are potential fatal funnels? Where are fire-from-cover locations? Where can an attacker be ambushed? Plan where to have Safety Team members start and how they move. Using role playing, act out several scenarios in engagement drills. Have someone play the role of the attacker. Switch roles among members.
Some attackers come in shooting, but others begin the attack when they are already inside. This is more easily done in cool or cold weather when heavy coats can conceal handguns, short assault rifles, and sawed-off shotguns. Book bags and brief cases can also hide a handgun (as in Charleston), and a guitar case can hide a rifle or shotgun (as in Knoxville), so be on the lookout for potential ways a killer may conceal his weapon.
If an attacker opens fire in your church, there will almost always be casualties. Chances are likely that someone will be wounded in the opening shots. This is where casualty readiness pays off, as it did in Pittsburgh. In 2018, when a gunman attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue during Sabbath services, many were shot. Eleven died, but more were saved by policemen and synagogue members who were able to control severe bleeding long enough for the wounded to be taken to the hospital. These responders had taken training.
Train all members of the Safety ministry in life-saving medical responses. This includes First Aid, CPR, AED operation, and especially bleeding control. Then equip the church with necessary supplies for this.
There Is More
Other articles in this series are "In the Crosshairs" (Churches as Targets), "On the Wall" (The Watcher's Duty), and "Bar the Door!" (Lockouts and Lockdowns).
- Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, "Active Shooter Neutralization and Lock Down Drills," Training Materials (Classes) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills-training-bundle], Individual Training (Online) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/active-shooter-neutralization-and-lock-down-drills].
- Staff, "11 times a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy, saving lives" (slideshow), Washington Times, n/d [https://www.washingtontimes.com/multimedia/collection/good-guy-gun-stopped-bad-guy-gun/].
- "Knoxville Unitarian Universalist church shooting," Wikipedia, n/d [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knoxville_Unitarian_Universalist_church_shooting].
- Anon, "Man who opened fire on Texas church shooter hailed as 'good Samaritan'," The Guardian, November 7, 2017 [https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/06/stephen-willeford-johnnie-langendorff-texas-church-shooting].
- Daniella Silva, Tim Stelloh and Tracy Connor, "Suspect Charged With Murder in Mass Shooting at Tennessee Church," NBC News, September 24, 2017 [https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/one-killed-eight-shot-church-shooting-tennessee-n804321].
- Ready Houston, "Run, Hide, Fight," City of Houston, © 2012 [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0&feature=player_embedded].
- Matthew D. Neal and Roberta G. Simmons, "Stop the Bleed" Saved Lives in Pittsburgh," The Coversation, U.S. News & World Report, November 5, 2018 [https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2018-11-05/stop-the-bleed-training-saved-lives-after-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting].