DULUTH — The September 1999 shooting that took place at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX shocked the nation, and churches across the Southern Baptist Convention in particular. One hundred and fifty teenagers were singing at a church concert when a gunman burst in the door and opened fire on them. Seven people died – four teenagers and three adults. Seven more were wounded.
The shooting at the Fort Worth church took place almost 16 years ago. However, just weeks ago, on June 17, another gunman, Dylann Roof, opened fire at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. Nine innocent people were killed as a result of Roof’s reprehensible act.
Churches, schools, theaters, and almost any place where people gather become danger zones in our society that has seemingly lost its emotional and moral equilibrium. Since the horrific Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, CO in 1999 there have been 40 mass murders in the United States with 380 persons killed and many more wounded.
Twenty-five years ago churches were being organized to grow Sunday School classes, disciple new believers, and win the lost. Now churches are developing strategies to thwart mass murders, prevent child molestation, and deal with same-sex marriages.
Micah Hamrick, the son of former Georgia Baptist Convention President Wayne Hamrick (deceased) and his wife, Joan, is the deputy director of Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security. Hamrick indicated that his office frequently gets questions from faith-based organizations asking, “What shall we do if we are faced with a terrorist or gunman who wants to harm people in our church?”
Hamrick stated, “We have developed an awareness campaign that focuses on surviving an active shooter event. The campaign is based on three words: run, hide, and fight.”
A YouTube video has been developed to inform people about what they can do to avoid the devastating affects of an intruder who plans to disrupt a workplace (or church) with malicious intent to do harm or danger.
Hamrick is responsible for Georgia’s overall preparedness for prevention of and response to terrorism and has agreed to work with the Georgia Baptist Convention to develop an awareness campaign to avert any potential emergency situation. Additional information about how to prepare for any act of violence will be forthcoming.
See something, say something
In the meantime Hamrick advised, “First, if you see something, say something. Be aware of your surroundings. If you see a package, backpack, device, or anything that looks curious or out of place make people aware of it.
“Second, find someone in authority who can verify whether the package is legitimate or not.
“Third, if no one can attest to its validity call 911 and evacuate the building.”
Hamrick continued, “There was a time when we left our doors unlocked and gave people the benefit of the doubt. That is no longer the case. It is unfortunate and I don’t like saying it, but in my work I have become almost suspicious of everyone.
“Of course, our churches need to be welcoming, but every church needs to have people assigned with the responsibility of being alert to anything that is amiss or any person whose demeanor is aberrant.”
Hamrick, who has been in public safety for almost 30 years, seems to think that the ISIS threat is an ever-present reality and expressed concern over the way this militant Islamic group uses social media to solicit help from people in America to advance its agenda.
He explained, “There are certain ISIS followers we are watching in Georgia, but there is no telling how many others are in the state that we don’t know about. We have done away with the yellow, orange, and red alert system.
“Now we only have two levels of danger: elevated and imminent. We are always on an elevated alert. An imminent alert is the worst. It means that danger is on the way.”
Many at work
Hamrick works to coordinate the efforts of a large number of public safety agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Transportation Security Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The Deputy Director of Georgia’s Homeland Security stated, “There are tens of thousands of people working to keep us safe and most of our citizens will never know the numerous attacks that have been deterred or averted by the diligence of those who work day and night to protect us.”
Although we have some very effective professionals who work to keep us safe, the time has come when churches need to be prepared to assist in the effort to protect their congregations from every expression of violence or catastrophe.