Following a mass shooting at a Squirrel Hill synagogue Saturday that killed 11 people and injured several others, including police officers, local parishioners may be questioning their safety while attending church services.
“We in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown grieve with our Jewish brothers and sisters during this sad time,” said Tony DeGol, secretary of communications for the diocese.
“No one should ever be afraid to go to his or her place of worship. We believe that people feel safe in our churches throughout the diocese. The tragedy in Pittsburgh, however, is a reminder for all of us to be vigilant. As we plan for the future, the diocese will continue to look at the safety and security of our church buildings.”
Prior to Saturday’s events, several local churches had already taken action in providing active shooter training for staff and developing emergency plans to protect their congregations.
“There are all kinds of threats,” said Pastor Jimmy Hinton of Somerset Church of Christ.
“We just have to be really proactive against all threats. The biggest thing we need to recognize is that evil is out there.”
Hinton, who travels across the country to train church leaders about how to respond to child sexual abuse, said he sees many churches doing active shooter trainings to prepare for those types of events.
“Eventually I think we’ll see churches respond well,” to emergencies, Hinton said, but it will take years for churches to create emergency plans and train leaders to respond in those situations.
At his church, Hinton said there several individuals trained to handle emergency situations.
“We have a plan in place,” he said.
In addition to a hall monitor outside church classrooms, Hinton said each classroom has two-way radios and teachers who are trained for lockdown procedures.
On Sunday, Hinton said he handled a situation in which a visitor who had sexually harassed a church member attended services. After that member approached Hinton and told him the visitor made her uncomfortable, Hinton said he immediately approached his elders with the situation and made sure the visitor was monitored.
Hinton later learned this visitor was known to attend other churches and sexually harass women, so he notified churches in the area about the situation as a precaution.
“Communication is really important,” he said.
“We need to do more of that.”