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Violation of Sanctity

Killers Invade Sanctuaries

young gunman killer aiming his M16 gun
An article in a series based on the Safety Member Certification training module “Active Shooter Response v4.”[1]

From the Bible

The Bible tells about violent violations of the sanctity of the Temple:

And they conspired against [Zechariah the son of Jehoiada] and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the Lord (2Chronicles 24:21).

And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah* (Isaiah 8:2). [*in the Septuagint, it is “son of Berechiah”]

“That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar” (Matthew 23:35).
*Note: all three Zechariahs are the same martyred person.

And [armed forces] shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength ... (Daniel 11:31a).
*Note: Daniel prophesied armed enemies in the sanctuary of the Second Temple.

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices (Luke 13:1).


In Evil Invades Sanctuary,[2] Carl Chinn tells about several incidents where deadly force was used in faith-based organizations. He was personally involved in two such incidents. He and three other persons were hostages when a gunman came into Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, where he was the building manager.

Eleven years later, the security team he formed at New Life Church stopped an active killer who had already killed two at a mission in Arvada and two more in the New Life parking lot. After this Chinn began keeping track of incidents where deadly force was used in religious institutions and founded the Faith Based Security Network (FBSN).

In its description of Evil Invades Sanctuary, FBSN says, "Active shooters, mass killers, workplace violence, domestic violence and other deadly encounters affect not only schools, theaters and malls but churches as well. All such sites are captive concentrations of typically unprepared victims."[3]

There were more active killer fatalities in American churches in 2017 than in any previous year, a steady increase since the Wedgewood Baptist Church shooting in 1999.

In the News

For this article, we'll refer to benchmark killings in places of worship. Note that there were different motives.

Daingerfield, Texas, June 28, 1980 - The Sunday before his trial for incest, a former school teacher armed with two rifles and two pistols burst into the First Baptist Church during the morning service and yelled, "This is war!" He then began firing at random. Five died and ten more were wounded.

Three men stopped the rampage. One rushed the killer, knocking the rifles loose. Then two ushers grabbed him in a double bear hug and moved him out the door while he fired a pistol several times, fatally wounding both. The shooter ran across the street to a fire station, where he shot himself in the head. He later hanged himself in jail.[4]

Fort Worth, Texas, September 15, 1999 -At Wedgwood Baptist Church, youth were celebrating that morning's See You at the Pole Day events at their high schools. A mentally ill and anti-religious man entered the church. He shot people in the lobby and in the sanctuary before committing suicide. Besides himself, the shooter killed seven persons and wounded seven more, three seriously.[5][6][7]

Knoxville, Tennessee, July 27, 2008 - An unemployed truck driver attacked the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. He objected to their liberalism and support of liberal politics. Church members rushed him and took him down, but not until he'd killed two and wounded six.[8]

Arvada and Colorado Springs, Colorado, December 9, 2007 - About 12:30 am at the Youth With A Mission training center in Arvada, two persons were killed and two others wounded by a young man who had been dismissed from the program five years earlier. Twelve hours later he killed two and wounded three in the parking lot of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, then entered the church building. He killed himself after being wounded in an encounter with a security team member.[9]

Charleston, South Carolina, June 17, 2015 - A racially-motivated young white man entered a side door of Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Emanuel AME). There he entered and sat down in a Bible study led by the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was a state senator and a prominent civil rights activist. At the end of the study, while those present were praying, the young man pulled out a handgun and began firing. He killed nine, including the pastor, before running out of ammo, then fled. He was later arrested and tried for murder.[10]

Antioch, Tennessee, September 24, 2017 - Two years later, the shooter at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ allegedly tried to avenge the Emanuel AME killings.[11]

Sutherland Springs, Texas, November 5, 2017 - Domestic violence led to the most deadly U.S. church assault. After sending threats to his mother-in-law, a man whose domestic violence resulted in a court marshal and a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force invaded her church during the Sunday morning service and killed 26 persons. He committed suicide after his truck ran off the road during a high-speed chase.[12]

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 27, 2018 - A man with anti-Semitic motives attacked a synagogue during Sabbath services, killing eleven. "Stop the Bleed" training enabled members and first responders to save lives.[13]

Besides churches and synagogues, targeted places of worship in North America also included mosques and a Sikh temple.

Featured Resources

This month's featured resources are Active Shooter Situation Checklist (a free downloadable resource), "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training" (a Church Security Guide article), and "Active Shooter Response v4" (a training module in the Safety Member Certification program).

Active Shooter Situation Checklist

Would the teacher in a classroom know what to do during an active killer incident? What if the notification called for an evacuation? What if a lockdown was called? The Active Shooter Situation Checklist can be printed and posted in each classroom. The PDF has a one-page brief for the Safety Team on what an active shooter is and how to respond. The next page is the checklist. Click *HERE* to get it.[14]

Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training

This article in the Church Security Guide provides an overview of how a Church Safety Team and the congregation should respond to an active shooter. "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training" begins with Important Terms. It goes on with

This overview can prepare the reader to take the full course in the training module.[15]

Active Shooter Response v4

The second training module/course in the Safety Member Certification program is "Active Shooter Response v4." This module begins with explaining why we prefer "active killer" to "active shooter" for describing an armed assailant. The objective of the training is to enable you to:

Church Safety Ministries are encouraged to have all their members fully trained and certified through the Safety Member Certification program. A team member who has taken each module and passed its certification test will be certified for two years as a Safety Member.[1]

The seven training modules in the program are

There are three modes of training: Team Training (classroom), Individual Training (online), and Online Training Events (Zoom).

Team Training

When you are starting a Church Safety Team, it helps to get everyone trained as soon as possible. In a classroom setting, several team members can be trained at once. Added to this is the benefit of interaction among students and with the instructor. Questions can be asked and answered in real time, and the instructor can sense what the team knows and how they are learning.

Two years later, the team can refresh their learning together. Those who joined the team after the initial training can get in sync with the rest of the team in refresher training.

Individual Training

This mode is ideal for new members who join after the team has had their training. It can also train those who cannot attend classes. One advantage for a student is the ability to back up a video and see or hear something again. At least you don't have to raise your hand in class and ask, "How's that again?"

Online Training Events

This format is relatively new to Sheepdog Church Security. Originally a means of class training during pandemic restrictions, it has been gaining in popularity. It combines advantages of in-person and online training. The 2022 Spring Semester is now in progress. The Fall Semester will begin this summer. The classes are two to three weeks apart.

The Not-so-Sacrosanct Place

"Sacrosanct" means "doubly sacred," literally (from Latin) made sacred by a sacred rite. In everyday use, it means "untouchable" and/or "unchangeable."[16]

How Sacrosanct Is Our Sanctuary?

In answer to this question, our sanctuaries (churches) are likely not as sacrosanct as we may think they are or wish they were. In fact, the sanctity of sanctuaries has been violated many times for thousands of years, and measures have been taken to protect holy places. For example,

Violations of Sanctity

In spite of precautions, sanctuaries have still been violated:

Violence in American Churches

From the 1999 shooting in Wedgewood Baptist Church to the end of 2017, the frequency of deadly violence in American places of worship increased. The closing of in-person services in 2020 contributed to a decline in church killings, but as they resumed, so did the threat. On Sunday, January 3, 2021 a pastor found a fugitive hiding in a restroom and held him at gunpoint while waiting for police. When he was distracted, the fugitive grabbed the gun, killed the pastor, and wounded another person.[17]

Correspondingly, more churches are taking security measures, from locking the doors when no one is there, to installing surveillance cameras, to establishing security and safety teams. More church safety team members (pastors too) are armed as churches take security seriously.

Protecting Churches from Violent Intruders

The mission of Sheepdog Church Security is to teach churches how to protect themselves against various threats. This means making the church a harder target than it would otherwise be:

Besides armed assailants, threats also include severe weather, thieves, fire, arson, vandalism, child abuse, and medical emergencies.


We are not totally immune to violence. The potential of an armed assailant is real. Do what you can to reduce the chances, but be ready to respond in case it happens.

There Is More

There are four articles for this month. The other three are "2012 World Changers Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned from a Church Shooting), "Building the Wall" (Preparing for an Active Killer), and "Facing Evil" (Responding to an Active Killer).


  1. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Response v4," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [].
  2. Carl Chinn, Evil Invades Sanctuary, ISBN: 061565788, Snowfall Press, © 2012.
  3. "Evil Invades Sanctuary Paperback by Carl Chinn," Faith-Based Security Network, n.d. [].
  4. Laura Richardson, "Five die in church shooting," Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 23, 1980 [,2408665&dq=].
  5. "Larry Gene Ashbrook," Wikipedia [].
  6. Claudia Kolker and Eric Slater, "Texas Gunman Tied to Hate Groups; Writings Show Persecution Feelings," Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1999 [].
  7. David Van Biema, "Terror In The Sanctuary," Time, September 27, 1999 [,9171,31191,00.html].
  8. J.J. Stambaugh, "Takedown of alleged shooter recounted," Knoxville News Sentinel, July 29, 2008 [].
  9. "2007 Colorado YWAM and New Life shootings," Wikipedia [].
  10. Editors, "Charleston church shooting," History Channel, originally published June 8, 2020, last updated June 15, 2021 [].
  11. Boucher, D., J. Ebert, N. Allison, N. Rau, A. Wadhwani, and N. De Gennaro, "How the Nashville church shooting unfolded: A timeline," The Tennessean, Published September 25, 2017, Updated September 26, 2017 [].
  12. "Sutherland Springs church shooting," Wikipedia, [].
  13. Dr. Matthew D. Neal and Roberta G. Simmons, "‘Stop the Bleed' Saved Lives in Pittsburgh," U.S. News & World Report, Nov. 5, 2018 [].
  14. Kris Moloney, "Active Shooter Situation Checklist," Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  15. Kris Moloney, "Church Safety Teams and Active Shooter Training," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [].
  16. "Sacrosanct," Word of the Day, Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, March 19, 2013 [].
  17. Doha Madani, Ben Kesslen and Tim Stelloh, "Pastor killed, two other people injured in Texas church shooting," NBC News, January 3, 2021 [].