This section is updated every Sunday morning to give church security teams some things to think about as they prepare for weekend services. I wish your team the very best and hope you may find occasional things applicable to your operations.

Security!? In a church?

Think About it ...

Stopping Killers – Part Six


This is the sixth in the series of stories of homicidal attacks at faith-based organizations where the attack was stopped in the process.


King County Washington has seen it’s share of evil, so it is no surprise that we have one of the landmark faith-based cases out of Seattle. About 4:00 PM on 7/28/06, a man proclaiming to be “a Muslim American” added that he was “angry at Israel” as he forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation.


He continued spewing anti-Semitic comments as he shot randomly at terrified women working in the offices. His rampage was so intent, terrified people were jumping out of 2nd floor windows to get away. After having killed one and wounding 5, he saw one of the wounded women on the phone to emergency dispatchers.  Though wounded in the arm, she naturally held her arm over her abdomen as she was pregnant. She bravely refused to hang up, then convinced the killer to speak with the 911 operator. That 911 operator was then able to talk him into laying down his firearm and walking out to surrender to law enforcement.


On 4/17/03 a Fair Lawn, NJ police officer was in a battle for his life in the parking lot of the Van Riper-Ellis Baptist Church. Having caught up to a fleeing felon who had wrecked in the parking lot, the police officer was in obvious trouble when 43-year-old officer Mary Ann Collura rushed in to intervene.


The felon shot both of them, then stole Mary Ann’s police cruiser and killed her by running over her as he escaped. The other officer survived due in part to the sacrifice of Mary Ann Collura. The killer was killed 900 miles away and 3 days later in a gun battle with law enforcement.


On the south side of Ft. Worth, TX a mentally unstable man had just lost his father. In his delusional state, he wrecked the inside of the house, then manicured the lawn, trees and shrubs outside. Just before he left his house for the last time, he poisoned the outside plant materials, then headed to the nearby Wedgewood Baptist Church on 9/15/99.


He killed one church worker in the lobby by the front door as he walked into an evening youth program. When he came into the sanctuary where the youth were singing, many hearing the shots and seeing the killer, thought it was a skit. As he killed a total of 7, and wounded that many others, a 19-year-old boy (Jeremiah Neitz) stood up and faced him.


As a friend pulled on Jeremiah’s pant-legs from under a pew trying to get him to get down, he heard Jeremiah say, “Sir you don’t have to be doing this.” The killer cussed, yelled and held the gun up to the teenager who simply held his arms out to his sides and said, “Sir you can shoot me if you want. But I know where I’m going. I’m going to heaven. What about you?” At that, the killer cussed again and simply put the gun to his own head and ended the attack.[i]


On 4/15/99, a 70-year-old man (or 71, reports varied) with schizophrenia was off his medications in Salt Lake City, Utah. He coolly walked into the LDS Family History Library and began shooting. In over an hour of shooting and reloading his .22 pistol, two were dead (including a security officer) and 5 others wounded (including a police officer).


The killer was shot and killed by responding police officers.


Think About it…


Ø Few heard about the Jewish Federation killing because it happened on the very same day Mel Gibson was pulled over for being intoxicated. The shock factor of a conservative superstar saying stupid things about Jews while intoxicated fit the agenda of main stream media better than an angry American Muslim shooting Jewish people because he blamed Israel for all the world’s troubles.


Ø Once again we see very different geographic differences in this small sampling. Two (Salt Lake City and Seattle) were office building scenarios, one (Fort Worth) was a sanctuary while in New jersey it went down in the parking lot.


Ø Once again, “stopped” means it was stopped there. In the New Jersey incident, the killer escaped after killing the police officer who intervened at the church. In this case the fight was brought to the church by actions of law enforcement attempting to stop a felon. Police had little (f any) ability to control where the fleeing suspect went – it’s just that he took them into a church parking lot.


Ø Jeremiah Neitz’s comment to the killer was almost word for word the same as what Tywanza Sanders said to the killer at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC in 2015. For whatever reasons it was the words that stopped the Fort Worth killer but had little (or no) effect on the Charleston killer.


… and last week’s TAI;

[i] “Night of Tragedy, Dawning of Light” pp 68. A Shaw Book by Waterbrook Press.

Stopping Killers – Part Five


This is the fifth in the series of stories of homicidal attacks at faith-based organizations where the attack was stopped in the process.


The 16-year-old son of the Assembly of God pastor in Wellington, Ohio was angry at his parents as they would not let him play the violent video game “Halo 3”. On 10/20/07 the boy found his dad’s key to the safe where the video game was locked away and retrieved it and a 9mm handgun from the same safe.


Walking up behind his dad who was sitting on a coach in their home, the boy told his dad to close his eyes as he had a surprise for him. He shot his dad in the head, then turned the gun on his mother and killed her. When the boy’s older sister and her husband came to the door, he put the gun in his gravely wounded dad’s hands to make it look as if their dad had killed their mom. The brother-in-law saw the boy pick up the gun again, and took it from him before the boy ran out of the house.


On 8/12/2007 in Neosho, MO a local man became angry at some of his family and neighbors who attended the First Congregational Church. His anger apparently stemmed from some using his car without his permission, so he entered the church during Sunday service and began shouting, “Liars! Liars!" He herded the 25-30 terrified congregants into a corner where he shot and killed the pastor and 2 other church leaders. He shot many more who survived, and claimed he would kill one every 30 minutes.


Officers from multiple agencies convened in the basement below to come up with a plan, but when another shot rang out they quickly charged into the sanctuary. All 7 officers (5 of whom were off-duty) worked together in tactical strategy as they closed in on the tense scenario. The killer had surrounded himself with the terrified congregation forcing them to be his human shield. He was yelling at the officers to leave and they were yelling at him to drop his weapon.


While each officer contributed to the resolution, it was Missouri State Trooper Corky Burr who was credited with talking the killer into laying down his weapon and surrendering. Because of his actions, Burr was one of only 4 state troopers nominated in the U.S. for the 2007 Association of Police Chiefs’ Trooper of the Year Award. His talking down the killer is probably the only outcome that would not have resulted in more deaths given the positions of the hostages.


I miss telephone and e-mail conversations with my friend Kevin Bennett of the Idaho State Police. Kevin was the outward picture of perfect health and one of the best law enforcement officers Idaho ever had. Leukemia took him in 2013 when he was just 36-years-old. Kevin was so clear in retelling the story of the 5/20/07 church killing in Moscow, Idaho that I feel at times as if I were there myself. Kevin was there with his fellow SWAT officers.


The attacker had killed his wife at her home, then gone to the First Presbyterian Church where he often ran a cleaning crew as the supervisor for a custodial contractor. He wasn’t working the night of May 19th, when he took an AK-47 and an M-1 into the church, killed the church caretaker, then began shooting across the parking lot at the nearby Sheriff’s office. In all, 102 rounds went into the Sheriff’s building.


As officers began to respond, Officer Lee Newbill was shot through his ballistic vest and died. In the early morning hours of 5/20/07, Kevin and other tactical officers entered the church to find the killer had shot himself dead at the alter.


Many are familiar with the West Nickel Mines School massacre in Lancaster County, PA on 10/02/06. The faith-based school was operated by the Old Order Amish. Made famous by documentaries and movies, this was the story of a vendor of the little school who chose to lash out at God (at Whom he was angry over the loss of his own daughter years before) by inflicting unspeakable horror on little girls.


The killer came into the small school armed with a 9mm handgun at about 10:25 that morning. He made the young boys help him carry in lumber, a taser, tools, nails, chains, wires and a board with several eye-hooks mounted into it. He also had a bag with a fresh change of clothes, candles, toilet paper, sexual lubricants and zip-ties. Then he ran the boys out and boarded up the door.


At 10:36 the first 911 call was recorded. At 10:42 the first State Trooper rolled onto the scene, followed by others in short order. The attacker was tying the girls up as Troopers surrounded the building.


About 11:00 AM they heard a loud scream from inside the school. The Troopers asked for permission to storm the school but were denied their request. At 11:07 AM, 17-18 shots were fired inside that left 5 girls dead and many seriously wounded. Two of those killed were 7, one was 8, one was 12, and the oldest was just 13-years-old. Troopers stormed it only to find the killer had fatally shot himself as they rushed the building.


Had they been able to rush the building sooner it is unlikely the story would have ended much differently. It took them 2-1/2 minutes to break through the door the killer had barricaded shut. No one will ever know if the denial to rush earlier saved more lives or cost more – there are just no easy answers in these things.


Think About it…


Ø Kevin Bennett told me of his “overzealous friendly” who rolled into the parking lot on a bicycle armed and proclaiming he would stop the killer since the cops couldn’t. Like our overzealous friendly at New Life – this guy was shot. Then he put others in danger to rescue him. Overzealous and unwanted assistance is a real scenario your team should drill for.


Ø Kevin and I talked of the unusual circumstances associated with our overzealous friendlies. In our case at New Life, the overzealous friendly did cause the killer to be tunnel-visioned in our direction leaving him open to Jeanne Assam who blind-sided and surprised him from the killer’s 10:00 position. In the Moscow ID attack, the “friendly” had ridden into the parking lot on a bike when he was shot by the killer. As law enforcement tried to come up with a plan to get the guy into safety, a man none of the officers knew or ever saw again ran in from the edge of the scene, pulled the injured college student to safety, then disappeared into the night. Nobody ever knew who it was and it has never been reported publicly until now.


Ø There are killers out there who kill for the most unimaginable reasons. Anger over a video game, the loss of a daughter years earlier or because someone used their car without their permission.


Ø In every one of these cases there were clues prior to the attack. None more prevalent than the Moscow, ID killer. A long rap sheet of domestic abuse, drug abuse and run-ins with law enforcement. He (like other killers we’ve all read of) had even told others of his desires to execute a massacre.


Ø Only one of these particular killers was a “member” of the church. Two were vendors and one a neighbor.


Ø The geography of the crime scene is always a significant consideration when planning a defensive counter attack. The geography of each of these scenes was significantly different.


Ø To every law enforcement officer and volunteer security operator out there who has made up their mind to be ready – thank you. As I wrote these stories, I know there will be others in the future played out by some who may be reading this now. You may not be able to save everyone, but like every one of these stories, they saved some.