How Common Are U.S. Church Shootings?
May 21, 2018
Rod Waddington photo | Flickr
By Aaron Earls
The Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas marked the fifth intentional shooting that resulted in a death at a U.S. school this year. After three fatal church shootings last year, however, none has occurred so far in 2018.
The Washington Post lists 220 school shootings—59 of which involved at least one fatality—since the Columbine attack on April 20, 1999.
During the same time period, there have been 18 fatal church shootings. The deadliest was the 2017 shooting at First Baptist Sutherland Springs in Texas, with 26 deaths including an unborn child.
Texas—home to the deadliest church shooting and most recent school shooting—has also had more church shootings since 1999 than any other state except Georgia. Both Texas and Georgia have had three church shootings.
World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia has been the site of two incidents.
The two most recent church shootings also took place on the same day—November 5, 2017.
Here are the locations of all the fatal church shootings since Columbine:
1999 Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas
2001 Greater Oak Missionary Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky
2002 Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Lynbrook, New York
2003 Turner Monumental AME Church in Kirkwood, Georgia
2005 Living Church of God in Brookfield, Wisconsin
2005 World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia
2006 Zion Hope Missionary Baptist in Detroit, Michigan
2006 Ministry of Jesus Christ Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
2007 First Presbyterian Church in Moscow, Idaho
2007 First Congregational Church in Neosho, Missouri
2007 New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado
2008 First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois
2009 Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas
2012 World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia
2015 Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina
2017 Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee
2017 First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas
2017 St. Alphonsus Church in Fresno, Texas
In addition to these incidents at Christian churches, fatal shootings have happened at other religious sites, including at a Benedictine monastery, a Sikh temple, and an Amish school.
Deadly incidents are on the rise at churches, says Carl Chinn, a church security expert. According to his research, there had never been a mass murder (four or more killed) associated with a faith-based property before 1963. Since then, there have been 14 such incidents.
As of last year, Chinn identified 617 people having been killed in deadly force incidents since 1999 at faith-based properties, including churches.
Despite these numbers, many churches do not make security a priority.
“Most churches spend far more time and money training their choir than they do investing in the safety of their staff and guests,” he says.
Chinn knows pastors often think the odds are in their favor and more than likely they’ll never have to deal with a serious security threat in their church.
“They are absolutely right,” he acknowledges. “Odds are their church will never face a serious threat. But if their congregation does face a serious threat, the odds won’t matter much.”
For those looking to become better prepared, Chinn advises churches to work with other leaders in the area.
“Work with your community first and foremost,” he says. “Know your law enforcement and fellow faith-based safety operators in your area on a first-name basis.”
Working with other safety professionals like those at area schools is also a good idea, according to Chinn. “Don’t be a silo of information,” he says.
For churches looking for simple steps to make themselves more secure, Chinn offers these nine guidelines.
Confirm support from your church’s leadership team.
Do a baseline readiness evaluation.
Start with what you have, where you are.
Keep it simple.
Keep it legal.
Know your insurance agent and policies.
Network with your community.
Train and drill.
Develop policies and procedures.
The key to creating a good safety and security plan is to break the work into manageable pieces. Guidestone’s Property & Casualty Program has several resources to help churches build a safety and security plan.
Securing the Faithful: How Churches Can Best Prepare for the Worst Tragedies
Strangers in a Small Church: Responding to Visitors in an Age of Violence
How Churches Can Prepare for the Worst
The Church Shooting You Didn’t Hear About This Week
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.