Many area churches were in service Sunday afternoon as reports of the shooting at a small church in South Texas made their way to televisions and cellphones.
“As I was speaking in church, an alert went off on my phone … but I didn’t click on it,” said Power Church Pastor Manny De Los Santos. “It was shocking … you don’t expect a church to get ambushed like that. I can’t even imagine what the preacher was feeling like.
“The first thing I felt was, ‘What if that would’ve happened in my church?’ I can’t even explain to you how it feels to even think like that.”
De Los Santos said the church already has several security measures in place. But, in light of the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed and nearly two dozen wounded, changes are being discussed at Power Church — and many others in the community — as congregations prepare to assemble again on Sunday.
De Los Santos said Power Church has people strategically stationed outside and inside of the building at 1344 S.E. 10th Ave., including their children’s area and foyer. They also have members of the church who carry firearms inconspicuously.
“They’re not walking around with their guns hanging out or anything, they are very low-key,” he said. “We have them stationed where we need them to be.”
Still, De Los Santos, along with four key officials of Power Church, convened for a special meeting Monday afternoon.
“I think what happened in Sutherland maybe, potentially, could have been headed off in the parking lot,” De Lo Santos said. “Right now we have parking lot attendants but not anybody that’s out there for security purposes.
“We are making some adjustments. We have a pretty tight security platform but we are making changes very soon.”
De Los Santos said there will be an Amarillo Police Department officer present during their three services this Sunday, where about 1100 parishioners usually gather.
“I think when people see stuff like that happen … it puts them at ease to see a uniformed officer; people feel safe and secure,” he said.
De Los Santos said they have not held an active shooter training as a congregation yet but he is considering it as he and others mourn the loss of life in Sutherland Springs.
“My heart is saddened for the pastor and the city and the community there,” De Los Santos said. “They’re dealing with the aftermath — they’re hurting and grieving and it’s a terrible feeling to know that another human is hurting and struggling with the question of, ‘Why?’”
‘Satan is busy’
When the small congregation in Sutherland Springs was being gunned down, Pastor James Collins of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church was preaching to his own small congregation of 50 to 75 people at 118 S. Van Buren St.
“My first thought was, ‘Satan is busy,’” Collins said. “My second thought was that we need to make sure our security measures are up to date and make sure everybody on our security staff is on one accord to protect the people.
“I want to have an active shooter seminar as soon as possible.”
Collins said on Wednesday the staff had not met to have a security meeting yet, but there are already several safety measures in place at the church, including not allowing bulky backpacks in the sanctuary, having armed personnel and having people routinely canvass the parking lot.
“Even during our mid-week service, we have people that are armed,” Collins said. “We try to stay to ahead of it but as we saw last Sunday, you just never know when something like that is going to happen.
“When you come to church to worship, you don’t think someone is going to come in and shoot you. We’re there to bring in people and welcome everybody in.”
‘My heart is heavy’
Trinity Baptist Church Discipleship Pastor Derek Hall said the staff there has not met to discuss security in the aftermath of the shooting, but that safety of the staff and attendees is always a priority.
“We have met in specific regard to the shooting but we gathered to pray for those people and mourn over what took place,” Hall said. “We actually had already put safety measures in place to be cautious of how we protect our people and our staff at all times.”
As the horror of the events and the shooter’s past continue to be revealed, Hall said none of the 450 church members at Trinity Baptist, located at 1601 Interstate 40, have expressed safety concerns in the days since the shooting.
“Our hearts are heavy for those people and go out to them and we are praying for them,” he said. “Personally, just as a pastor, to think of the fact that … something like this could have happened to people of our church and the pastor there lost his daughter … to think of trying to minister to those people, my heart is heavy.”
The church’s most recent safety measures were put in place about a year ago.
“Because our church is located very close to the interstate, we often have people who stop by … who are in need of help for different reasons,” Hall said. “We want to make sure that we are safe at all times, as best we can but at the same time, ministering to people and helping people who are in need of help.”
There are several law enforcement officers who are members of the church, and Hall said security changes and active shooter drills are not on the horizon.
“We feel like we have good measures in place on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and even throughout the week when we are here as a staff,” he said. “We feel like we are doing the best that we can to keep our people safe.
“We have people who are a part of Sunday morning safety who understand what to do if something should happen. Particularly during our Sunday morning Bible study hour … we have designated people we ask to be in specific areas and specifically by our children’s’ ministry area to make sure everything is safe and going the way it needs to be.”