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Churches weigh security in wake of Texas shooting

Church Shooting Texas-5

Law enforcement officials work at the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church on Nov. 5 in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Last week, the nation watched in horror as the story unfolded about a mass shooting at a small, quiet Baptist church in Texas.

Twenty-six victims were slaughtered in an unprovoked attack, and the whys and wherefores are just now coming to light.

The Twin Counties has been fortunate that such a scene has never played out here. But 10 years ago, on Oct. 18, 2007, Rocky Mount Meals on Wheels Director Debbie Kornegay and Assistant Director Eve Beasley were stabbed multiple times as they were preparing meals in the kitchen of Lakeside Baptist Church in Rocky Mount. Kornegay lost her life in that attack.

Kornegay was a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd at the time of her death. The Rev. Matt Johnson, who now serves as rector of the church, said he did not know Kornegay but is aware of her legacy and of the impact her death had not only on the family, but on churches in the community as well.

“After her death, our church worked to improve its security and I think we are as safe as we can be,” Johnson said. “But during a worship service, people can still come in — and they should be able to come in. Part of being a Christians involves risk because we are open to serving others. If we react by having armed ushers, it defeats the purpose. It is a tough balance.”

Johnson said part of the reason he thinks violent acts in churches affect people more profoundly than at other locations is because of the contrast the situation offers.

“People expect the church to be a place of peace and safety and refuge,” Johnson said. “We expect it to be a place where we can keep out the evils of the world. In the past, even evil men had a certain respect for a place of worship — but that doesn’t seem to be true any more.”

Yvette Jones, community services supervisor for the Rocky Mount Police Department, agreed.

“Across the United States, Americans congregate in faith-based venues to worship, learn, play and bond as a community. However, public gatherings are vulnerable, and adversaries may perceive houses of worship as attractive targets where they can inflict mass casualties, cause substantial psychological impacts and draw extensive media coverage as we’ve seen just this week in Texas,” Jones said in a statement released this week.

Jones and Cpl. Brad Summerlin have been working on providing information to local churches about improving security for more than a year. They began to develop a brochure called “Worship Center Security” shortly after the church massacre of nine people in Charleston in June 2015. Since then, the Rocky Mount Police Department has reached out to 46 area churches with offers of assistance in upgrading security measures.

“In a time when mass shootings are becoming increasingly familiar events, the demand for active-shooter training sessions has risen rapidly. Every time one of these shootings happens, we have to reach more people more quickly. Shootings are hard to predict and hard to stop, but the more preparation you do, the better your chances are,” Jones said.

The Rocky Mount Police Department now offers active shooter training sessions to churches. To schedule an event, please contact Summerlin at 252-972-1466 or Jones at 252-972-1436 or go to www.fema.gov/faith-resources.

Rocky Mount Police Chief James Moore said Rocky Mount police will be patrolling churches in the city more closely on Sunday and plan to continue increased patrols for the foreseeable future. Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone said his office will be doing the same for churches in the county.

”The Nash County Sheriff’s Office is actively patrolling churches in the area, and we are always nearby. If someone sees something suspicious, they should call in and report it,” Stone told the Telegram.

Stone said he supports residents arming themselves at church, but only under certain circumstances.

“If you are going to go armed to church, you need to make sure you have the proper permits and are well-trained. You need to know the capabilities of your weapon and be qualified to shoot accurately. Otherwise, the gun may be more of a problem than a solution,” Stone said.

The Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Department is currently gauging interest in holding a symposium on church safety in the near future. In the meantime, Edgecombe County Sheriiff Clee Atkinson Jr. urges churches to develop enhanced security plans on their own.

“I recommend that each church and congregation has a serious discussion with their pastor and leadership team on the safety of the church,” Atkinson said. “Church leadership varies from each congregation; however, safety in worship is key for me as the sheriff of Edgecombe. It is some praying times and we need to be mindful of our surroundings, even in God’s House.”

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