Tag: mass shootings

God and guns: Texas pastors undergo security training a month after Sutherland Springs massacre

God and guns: Texas pastors undergo security training a month after Sutherland Springs massacre

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

PLANO, Texas — Shooting holes in a “paper bad guy” during target practice? That’s easy.

Defending a house of worship against a real gunman? That’s a whole different story.

As he led a security training on Tuesday (Dec. 5) at a Dallas-area megachurch, Sgt. Mike Gurley warned against thinking that worshippers licensed to carry handguns can offer reliable protection.

“To assume they’re going to be effective in an active-shooter situation is comparable to giving me a set of golf clubs and expecting me to win the Masters,” the retired Dallas policeman told the crowd of 650 pastors and other church leaders.

The event, titled “Church Security in the 21st Century,” was held at the 42,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church exactly a month after the worst church shooting in American history.

That mass shooting occurred about 300 miles south of Plano at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5. Twenty-five members ages 1 to 77, including a pregnant woman, were killed.

Gurley, principal of the security firm Teamworks Consulting Inc., said even people licensed to carry firearms need specialized training to be able to respond to active-shooter situations.

He urged churches to develop policies for minimum training and qualifications for anyone armed with a gun and to consider involving members with law enforcement and military experience. Helping with the security team requires just as strong a calling and “God-given talent” as any other service, he said.

“Sutherland Springs was not a gun control issue,” he added. “It was a sin issue. We have to safeguard the body of believers.”

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

Texas hero risked life to save others

Texas hero risked life to save others

With the death toll at 26, Stephen Willeford confronted — and shot — the Sutherland Springs gunman.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Heroes need prayers, too.

Stephen Willeford — the Texan who confronted and shot the gunman who killed 26 people at a rural Baptist church Sunday — could use a bunch of prayers, his close friend John Wood says.

To many, Willeford’s actions outside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs made him a hero.

But the hero, who is described as a faithful Christian, was distraught when he called Wood at his Ohio home right after confirming gunman Devin Patrick Kelley’s death.

“I talked to him immediately after it happened, basically before any of the law enforcement arrived,” Wood — a retired Church of Christ minister and Air Force chaplain — told The Christian Chronicle. “He called me and said, ‘I just killed a man.’”

Texas Department of Public Safety Cmdr. Freeman Martin told reporters that an armed citizen, identified as Willeford, shot Kelley in the leg and torso. However, an autopsy indicated that a third shot — a self-inflicted wound to the head — likely killed Kelley.

Wood had just gotten home from worship at the Xenia Church of Christ in the Buckeye State when his phone rang.

The longtime preacher said he relied on his training in counseling as he comforted Willeford, who has long ties to Churches of Christ.

Read the full story.

First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

After massacre, a prayer vigil

After massacre, a prayer vigil

In a community grieving 26 victims, a Church of Christ opens its doors for service.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

The Stockdale Church of Christ in rural South Texas was enjoying a monthly fellowship meal when the horrible news came Sunday afternoon.

Just a few miles away, a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in the neighboring town of Sutherland Springs had claimed 26 lives and left 20 others wounded.

“We were all eating when everybody’s Facebook and Twitter feeds started to blow up,” said Kenneth Clapp, minister for the Stockdale church.

A member who serves as the justice of the peace for Wilson County — where both Stockdale and Sutherland Springs are located — got a call to respond to the scene, as did several first responders in the congregation.

On Sunday night, the Stockdale Church of Christ hosted a prayer vigil to give its community a chance to pray and grieve together. About 150 people filled the pews.

Pastor Ray Perales from Christ United Methodist Church in Stockdale and pastor Noah Tillman-Young from Stockdale Assembly of God joined Clapp and other local residents in leading prayers at the hour-long vigil.

“A lot of it was praying for peace, comfort, to not let people lose hope or faith,” Clapp said. The shooting affected “people whose names and faces we know. It makes it very real.

“Part of it is, how can we be safe?” added the minister, whose church averages Sunday attendance of 175 to 180. “The answer is, we never truly will be, so we do the best we can. … It’s really shaken people here because there wasn’t anything anybody could do.”

Read the full story.

First published online, this story appears in the December 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

For survivors of Tennessee church shooting, healing will take time and patience

For survivors of Tennessee church shooting, healing will take time and patience

‘You don’t ever get over those things. You just learn how to get through them,’ says a minister familiar with tragedy.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

The gunman took the love of Mavy Stoddard’s life.

She refused to let him take her hope.

“God’s been good to me,” said Stoddard, whose husband, Dorwan, 76, died when a would-be assassin opened fire on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket on Jan. 8, 2011. “My faith got me through all this without falling apart.”

But even now — nearly seven years after the Arizona attack in which six were killed and 13 others injured — Mavy Stoddard breaks down sometimes.

“Just this last Sunday, I spent 15 minutes crying and feeling sorry for myself,” said Stoddard, 82, who lived despite suffering three bullet wounds. “But 15 minutes is all I will allow myself anymore.”

For survivors of the recent mass shooting at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., healing will take time and patience, said Stoddard and other Christians who have experienced past tragedies.

“I would tell them they need to load up on patience and mercy and grace,” said Les Ferguson Jr., a minister whose wife, Karen, 44, and son Cole, 21, were shot to deathin the family’s Gulfport, Miss., home on Oct. 11, 2011.

Melanie Crow, 38, was killed and seven other Burnette Chapel members wounded — including minister Joey Spann — when a masked gunman targeted the congregation Sept. 24.

To members’ shock, the man arrested by police — 25-year-old Emanuel K. Samson — was someone they knew.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the November 2017 edition of The Christian Chronicle.

 

After Orlando, Christians eager to learn more about jihad and ordinary Muslims

After Orlando, Christians eager to learn more about jihad and ordinary Muslims

In the Florida city where the nation’s worst mass shooting occurred, sessions on ‘Understanding Islam’ draw crowds.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

ORLANDO, Fla. —Months ago, organizers of a biennial Christian conference in Florida invited longtime minister James Moore to speak on “Understanding Islam.”

Interest in the subject intensified, though, after a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group opened fire at a gay nightclub not far from the Rosen Centre Hotel, where 2,000 members of Churches of Christ from 14 states and six nations gathered.

Suddenly — and sadly — Moore’s breakout sessions tackling questions ranging from the meaning of jihad to how to interact with ordinary Muslims became much more timely.

“ISIS is on everybody’s mind,” said Moore, using another term for the Islamic State as he spoke at the recent Equip Conference— formerly known as the Spiritual Growth Workshop.

“Islam is a big subject, and we could spend from now until Jesus comes talking about Islam,” he told a crowd of about 200 who came to one of his sessions — which were moved to a larger banquet hall to accommodate the size of the audiences.

After Omar Mateen fatally shot 49 people and wounded 53 others at the Pulse nightclub on June 12 — one month ago — Christians such as Alina Wyder felt a need to become better educated on Islam.

This is the second of a three-part series in The Christian Chronicle.
In Orlando, a call for more openness, less fear

In Orlando, a call for more openness, less fear

After gay nightclub massacre, showing love to LGBT community a focus at Christian conference.

Second Place, In-Depth Reporting, Associated Church Press

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

ORLANDO, Fla. — Sally Gary couldn’t come to Orlando and fail to visit the site of the gay nightclub massacre where 49 people died.

The founder of CenterPeace, a Dallas-based ministry that provides support and resources for people who experience same-sex attraction, said she felt compelled to pay her respects.

“I can’t imagine being here and not paying homage to the brothers and sisters who lost their lives there,” said Gary, a member of the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas.

Months before the Pulse nightclub attack, Gary accepted an invitation to speak at the Equip Conference in Orlando — a biennial event formerly known as the Spiritual Growth Workshop.

The nation’s worst mass shooting — in which 53 people were wounded in addition to those killed — provided “a very in-your-face reminder” of the urgency for churches to become more open and less fearful in discussing LGBT issues, Gary said.

Her message to the standing-room-only crowds that filled her three sessions: The person experiencing same-sex attraction isn’t a guy in a rainbow-colored bikini marching in a gay pride parade.

“It’s me,” said Gary, who grew up in the Tenth and Broad Street Church of Christ in Wichita Falls, Texas, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Abilene Christian University.

Read the full story.

This is the first of a three-part series in The Christian Chronicle.

A church makes a special connection with an Orlando victim’s family

A church makes a special connection with an Orlando victim’s family

How a New Jersey congregation came to bless a grieving mother who lost her son in the nation’s worst mass shooting.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

ORLANDO, Fla. — “It’s been a while, man,” said my friend Jose Luis Cintrón, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas.

Thirty years, to be exact.

Sadly, I called after all these years because my friend just lost his nephew, Peter “Ommy” Gonzalez-Cruz, in the mass shooting that claimed 49 lives at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Back in 1986 — my senior year at Keller High School, north of Fort Worth — Cintrón and I were part of a tight-knit group of friends that included his twin brother, Tony, and my brother, Scott.

We roamed the same school hallways. We worked together at a McDonald’s restaurant. On our off nights, we hung out — seeing movies like “Top Gun” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” playing co-ed softball and cruising in our super-cool cars, such as the gray 1980 Ford Pinto with manual transmission that Scott and I shared.

“Those were fun days,” Cintrón said as we reminisced before talking about his family’s unfathomable loss.

Read the full column.

This is the third of a three-part series in The Christian Chronicle.