PLATTE WOODS, Mo. — Churches from throughout the Northland gathered at the Platte Woods City Hall to learn some things they could to do prevent the unthinkable — an active shooting situation.
Jim Murray, who runs Professional Protection Institute out of Kearney, Mo., held a three-hour seminar on Saturday, Jan. 27, to not only talk about the history of church shootings but what simple things congregations could put in place to help prevent shooting incidents or help those responding to the situation.
“I kind of believe what I’m trying to do is teach God’s people what to do when the devil comes to call,” said Murray, who serves as investigator for the legal counsel for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. “We are honored to be asked to be out here. It is really a shame we have come to this and we have to come and prepare people to go to church and they may be in a gunfight or any other fight. We talk about shootings, but a gun isn’t the only weapon.
“Guns aren’t toys. We want to have a little bit of warrior mindset. We want to realize it has to be defense driven.”
Churches with parishioners or pastors at the seminar were Park Hill Christian in Kansas City; Christ Lutheran in Platte Woods; Vineyard Church in Kansas City; Platte Woods United Methodist Church and North Heartland Community Church in Kansas City.
There have been multiple church shootings over the past two decades. One of the more recent incidents came on Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where Devin Kelley killed 26 and shot another 20 before ultimately killing himself.
In June 17, 2015, nine people were killed by a gunman at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., which included Rev. Clementa Pinckney.
Murray showed research revealed there was 139 shootings on church property that killed 185 between 1980 and 2005.
Pastors have been targeted in shootings due to their role as being the head of the church. Murray used an analogy if you have a problem you want the person in charge.
Two of church shootings occurred in Missouri during a six-year span — in 2002 and 2007.
The first occurred in Conception, Mo., when Kearney resident Lloyd Jeffress, 71, killed two monks at the Conception Abbey before killing himself. Jeffress carried an AK-47 and sawed-off .22-caliber rifle.
A pastor and two deacons were killed and five were wounded in an Aug. 12, 2007 shooting in Neosho, Mo. Eiken Saimon, who had two small-caliber handguns and a 9-millimeter pistol, entered First Congregational Church killed pastor Rev. Kernal Rehobson. He then held upwards of 50 people hostage before surrendering. He is currently serving three consecutive life sentences at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Mo.
“There has been a lot of copy cat shootings,” Murray said. “Church shootings aren’t new. Church shootings have been going on for years. The way we respond is what needs to be new.”
During Murray’s presentation, he stated there are about 19 million church services each year in the United States and given that, those attending have about 1 in 6.5 million chance of being involved in a shooting. He added the 10 percent of the shooters have serious mental illness, while nine percent of shooting are based on religious difference.
Though not a church shooting, Murray mentioned Adam Purinton entered Austin’s Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kan., in 2017 and shot and killed two men who he believed to be Muslim.
Murray added that nearly half of those church shooters — 48 percent — have a connection to the congregations, while 25 percent are tied to domestic situations.
Murray noted churches that are located off the highways are soft targets, but there are precautions that could aide in identifying situations.
Vineyard Church has a visitor’s parking lot and the pastor meets with the visitors after the service. There are also off duty officers at each service and they work with the church’s security — one that Murray said that is well praised among the circles he travels.
The pastor of the church also noted that some members of the church carry guns during the service and someone in attendance at the seminar said he carries each week while attending Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Smithville, Mo.
North Heartland Community Church has a security team and a medical team in place. A representative of the church noted of the 17 members of the security team, all but three carries a weapon.
The church located at Highway 152 and Green Hills Road is proactive in safety and members of security team there recently training with the Platte County Sheriff’s Office in four-hour blocks on using pepper spray and tasers.
Murray gave churches some checklists on things that would be beneficial in case of the worst-case scenario.
Some of those included making sure local law enforcement agencies have a digital and hardcopy of every room in the church and even a key needed to enter the building.
He also encouraged churches to let law officials to be aware of where the gas, electric and water shutoff valves are — if needed. Designating a communication person, as well as a media contact was also advised.
Another talking point Murray addressed was signs in church. Using the example of one pointing to a nursery could be a road map for an active shooter.
“There were a couple of churches that had complex safety teams and I felt they took away something out of it,” Platte Woods Police Chief Jim Kerns said. “And the ones that didn’t have a safety team, they saw the need. The one takeaway it wasn’t just about the active shooter, there was education like having a call team for communications and who would be on a medical team.
“I was real happy with the turn out and we will follow that up in April or May with some hands-on scenarios.”