Police, pastors host active shooter training for local churches

Thursday , December 07, 2017 - 5:00 AM

BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner

Church leaders from around Northern Utah take part in an active shooter training at Hope Resurrected Church in Ogden on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017. The event was one of two classes hosted in Utah in the wake of the mass shooting at a church in Texas.

JACOB SCHOLL, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — After seeing news of recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, Pastor Fred Lopez of Ogden’s Hope Resurrected Church decided to be proactive.

Lopez brought in members of the Ogden Police Department’s Community Policing Unit Tuesday night, Dec. 5, to speak to nearly two dozen local church officials about what to do in a situation involving an active shooter.

Lopez said the recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas were particularly striking to him because he has family nearby in both areas.

“I needed to come to grips with reality,” he said. “I need to be able to react and be responsible for my congregation.” 

Ogden Police master officers Erick Gonnuscio and Bob Cahoon began the presentation by playing the audio of a 911 call from a Columbine High School faculty member during the infamous 1999 Colorado shooting. The woman described how she and students were trying to hide in the school’s library during the shooting. 

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When the audio ended, Gonnuscio said one of the first things to remember in the event of a mass shooting is that hiding is the worst thing you can do.

“Hiding makes you a victim,” he said. 

The two officers continued to break down mindsets, discussing the potential actions of people behind and in front of the gun. 

The acronym for how civilians should respond in that kind of event is simple: ADD.

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Police say civilians need to avoid, deny and defend. This means people need to avoid the area of the shooting if possible; deny the shooter’s access to your immediate area by blocking entry; and — if necessary — defend yourself by any means if it is required for survival. 

The two policemen said having a plan for these kinds of events is crucial. One example is Rick Rescorla, a security officer at the World Trade Center who repeatedly did evacuation drills ahead of Sept. 11. Rescorla was responsible for much of the evacuation efforts that saved numerous lives during the attack. 

The talk comes in the wake of a number of mass shootings at churches in the past few years. Much of the concern over churches as targets of mass shootings started in June 2015, when a man opened fire at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine people. 

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Most recently, 26 people were killed after a man opened fire at a small church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas.

“This type of thing can happen anywhere,” Gonnuscio said regarding the Texas shooting. “It doesn’t have to be a big place; it can be a small town.” 

In fact, it has happened in Ogden.

On June 16, 2013, Charles Richard Jennings entered St. James the Just Catholic Church and shot his father-in-law, 66-year-old James Evans, in the back of the head. Evans miraculously survived the gunshot, and Jennings was recently denied parole until 2038.

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Drawing an end the presentation, two quotes were projected on the wall behind the officers: “You are not helpless” and “What you do matters.” 

The policemen emphasized that there are plenty examples of mass shootings whose outcome was affected by people fighting back. 

“You have to keep in mind, it’s you or him,” Cahoon said.

Lopez concluded, despite his concern that events like this are increasingly necessary, there is a silver lining: Community safety events such as this are encouraging people and organizations like local police to interact and unite against a community threat.

“It’s drawing communities closer together,” Lopez said. “It’s making people come together.” 

If you would like to facilitate a presentation like this one, contact Ogden City Police Community Outreach Coordinator Diana Lopez at dianalopez@ogdencity.com.

Contact reporter Jacob Scholl at jscholl@standard.net or follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Scholl.