Shooting at Church in Small Texas Community Leaves Residents Stunned, Grieving
Homeland Security issues bulletin declaring churches are soft targets
We are all in shock and grief over news of the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Sunday morning, leaving at least 26 people dead, including the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter. Many more were wounded in what officials say is the largest mass shooting in Texas’ history.
Dressed in all black and wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest, the gunman, identified as Devin P. Kelley, first began firing outside the church around 11:20 am (CT) before he continued his shooting spree inside.
Ages of the victims range from 5 years old to 72 years of age. The shooter also is dead.
Residents expressed disbelief that this could happen in their small close-knit rural community, mostly farmers and ranchers and people who work in the oil and gas patches.
“I never thought it would happen here,” said Carrie Matula, who works at a gas station about a block and half away from the church.
“It’s a small Baptist church. It’s an older building. I don’t know that they would have security cameras or anything high-tech like that. And I know they didn’t have security in the parking lot,” she said.
This tragic incident reminds us that houses of worship are not exempt from violence and terrorism.
“Even though our churches are sanctuaries from the troubles of this world, houses of worship have also become targets of violence across our country,” said Dr. Hal Sacks, president of Builders Int’l and member of the Faith Community Advisory Board of the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC).
Homeland Security earlier this year issued a bulletin stating concern that houses of worship are soft targets and vulnerable for terrorists and others seeking to do harm.
While many large faith-based institutions have addressed the issue of security and have the resources to implement protective measures, smaller assemblies often do not. Moreover, the staff of Christian institutions often lacks the in-depth training or experience offered law enforcement on how to access the landscape that surrounds a church’s unique security issues.
Hal Sacks is pleased to serve as an ambassador from the Christian community to ACTIC. If you are a pastor or church leader and would like to set up a meeting to get your security questions answered, please contact BridgeBuilders’ office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include your name, your email address and phone number, and the full name and address of your church or organization.
We will connect you with information on who to contact at Arizona’s Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC). ACTIC is run by the Arizona Department of Safety in partnership with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
You can find out how to schedule a free and confidential assessment of your church facilities and program vulnerabilities. Grant monies may be available to assist you in bringing your church site to a higher level of safety and security.
- Heavenly Father, we lift before YOU Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri, and ask YOU to comfort them and heal their hearts as they mourn the loss of their daughter, friends, and church members who were killed in this senseless tragedy.
- Over those who are critically wounded, we speak life, in Jesus’ name, and ask YOU to bring healing and restoration to them. We ask YOU, Lord, to heal this church and the entire community from the grief, trauma, and wounds they are experiencing.
- God of All Comfort, we ask YOU to wrap Your loving arms around every person who lost a loved one in this shooting. Surround them with YOUR comfort and the peace that passes all understanding. Encourage YOUR people to reach out to those who are hurting, to pray, and offer practical assistance.
- Father, we pray for law enforcement and the intelligence community as they try to put the pieces together to discover the motives of the shooter and whether or not he acted alone.
- We pray wisdom, grace, strength, and skill for the medical teams in hospitals as they attend to the wounded and for the Red Cross as they assist families.
- Lord, we pray YOUR promises in Psalm 91 over the houses of worship in our communities. Give YOUR angels charge over our churches and synagogues and keep them safe from harm. Lord, we ask YOU to continue to awaken YOUR Church to pray for protection and also to raise up safeguards that strengthen security measures for protecting the congregations from those bent on doing evil.
- Phil McCausland, “Texas Church Shooting: More than Two Dozen Parishioners Killed,” NBC NEWS, November 5, 2017.
(Image above: Emergency personnel at the scene of a fatal shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday. KSAT / via AP)