Forum hopes to help churches stay safe in wake of Texas shooting


JACKSONVILLE, Onslow County - Law enforcement in Onslow County took part in a forum to help churches stay safe after the recent mass shooting at a church in Texas.

One local church had a too-close situation of its own with a person who threatened members of the congregation during a late-night choir practice a few years ago.

"It was pretty tense, especially for the man he pulled the weapon on," said Craig Stephens, song director at Fellowship Baptist Church. "A few years ago, we had a young man threaten one of our church leaders with a knife. We were able to keep him at bay for a while while the pastor called 911."

So what would have happened if that armed man was carrying more than a knife? That's exactly what made Stephens and others come out for the Jacksonville Police Department's meeting with the spiritual community on better protecting their holy places.

Three things discussed about what to do if you have an active shooter or armed person was get away if possible, hide or barricade yourself or fight back.

Officials said the police department takes on average about 3.5 minutes to respond to a threat. Meanwhile, the county sheriff can take much longer as they have more ground to oversee. So with that period of time, you can be in danger and need to have a defensive plan for your church.

Concealed weapons in church are an option. There is no law against carrying unless the pastor or spiritual leader doesn't approve. Officials said if you decide to carry, make sure you are doing so in a responsible manner.

Coastal Carolina Community College offers training courses for those interested in learning how to properly use weapons. Officials also said if you don't want weapons within your church, you can request local law enforcement to patrol your area for certain periods of time.

"Great care and responsibility comes with having it on a person especially in the church," said Jared Lofton, a Jacksonville Police officer.

"It's a personal choice, but with the choice of caring a weapon comes great responsibility and every responsibility needs training," said Hans Miller, Onslow County sheriff. "So you know what to do, what not to do and what definitely not to do."

The Onslow County Sheriff's Office is scheduled to hold another seminar at a later date.

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