By Cheril Vernon
Messenger Copy Editor
PALESTINE – In response to the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history at a small South Texas church on Nov. 4, the Palestine Police Department (PPD) met with local clergy members on Wednesday, Nov. 8 to offer their assistance and to see if there was interest in the department offering free active shooter training classes for area churches and their congregations.
Just days ago, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, interrupted a Sunday morning church service at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, about 40 miles southeast of San Antonio, with gunfire, killing 26 and injuring at least 20. The victims in the mass shooting range in age from 18 months old to 77 years old, including eight children and teenagers.
“We would like to educate the whole congregation. We don’t want them to be afraid. If you have a knowledge base, then it helps you know how to respond and you will reach for it from somewhere,” PPD Lt. Gabriel Green said during a meeting held for local church leaders and congregations at First United Methodist Church in Palestine.
Based upon recommendations from those in attendance, the PPD will offer two free civilian active shooter training classes – one on a Saturday morning and the other on a Monday night to accommodate various schedules.
The first class will be held from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 18 at First Baptist Church, located at 5700 N. Loop 256 in Palestine. The second class will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20 at Triple SSS Cowboy Church, located at 299 U.S. 287 North in Palestine.
“The purpose of tonight is to start this conversation,” PPD Chief Andy Harvey said to the audience, noting the department is willing to talk to individual churches as well as to a collective group. “Just let us know your needs.”
The police department also offered advice for local churches in case something like what happened at the Sutherland Springs church happened in East Texas.
“What they have released is that (Kelley) may have been after the mother-in-law who attended (the church) but she wasn’t even there,” Green said. “So when we start looking into things about how we can see it coming – there is no reliable way to prevent it from happening. But what we can do is try to prevent the casualties from happening – to protect your flock the best way we can – in the reality of the situation.”
The police officers reiterated the best way to protect a group of people from an active shooter is to attend special training,. Then, have the congregation practice drills so if something like that were to happen, the congregation would be ready.
“I can tell you right now that we can teach you, but if you don’t practice it, it may or may not be used,” Green said noting that he practices his gun draw every day. “I practice my draw five times when I put it on and I practice my draw five times before I take it off. Every time I just ask that I get better. I can not tell you how many times that training – having that mindset – has helped me.”
Green said the most important thing to remember is to “try something.”
“Get away if you can, If you can run and get out of the building, get out of the building as fast as possible and take whoever you can with you. If you can’t do that, hide and barricade yourself as much as you can,” Green said.
If something goes down similar to how it was in Sutherland Springs, where the person enters the sanctuary -and there is no time to get away – it’s time to fight, Green said.
“Get it in your mind, right now (to fight). There are hymnals in here. It’s time to do an old-fashioned stoning – get it in your mind you aren’t going down without a fight and try to have people rush (the shooter) while you are doing that,” Green said. “At the end of the day it’s all about our family and loved ones. We will protect them and we will keep them safe.”