N.H. Group to Hold Active Shooter Training for Churches

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2017 12:08:45 AM
Modified: 12/4/2017 12:08:48 AM

West Lebanon — Massacres in houses of worship have prompted the New Hampshire Council of Churches to offer a free training session for clergy members and other church officials to learn how to best respond to an active shooter threat.

The Rev. Jason Wells, executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches, said the need to prepare for such an event has brought mixed emotions to church communities far and wide.

“There is sadness all around,” Wells said recently. “But there is strength that comes from the response.”

A retired New Hampshire police detective who is the son of a pastor and a co-founder of a company that specializes in defense called Wells on the day after the First Baptist Church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, and offered to run a training session.

Holding a course had been on Wells’ mind for a few reasons, including the prevalence of active shooter situations across the country — more than two dozen people were killed at the Sutherland Springs church — and the moment felt right, so he signed on, he said.

So far, dozens of people from different churches across the state have signed up for the event, which will be held at the Heritage Baptist Church in Nashua, N.H., on Saturday. Leaders from both “conservative and liberal” churches have signed up to attend, something Wells said he found pleasantly surprising.

“Regardless of political views … there is a sense that all of us have to address this together,” Wells said.

Among those who will attend are the Rev. Stephen Silver, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Lebanon.

When first speaking with the Valley News last week, Silver said he hadn’t heard of the training session. He signed up online almost immediately upon learning about it.

He too said active shooter trainings have been on his mind, and he thought about reaching out to the Lebanon Police Department, which has been putting on courses since the summer.

The topic hit close to home after a man entered the intensive care unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in September and shot and killed a 70-year-old patient, alarming thousands of DHMC workers and patients. Travis Frink, of Rhode Island, pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in the death of his mother, Pamela Ferriere, of Groton, N.H.

“It is a very sad state of affairs,” Silver said of churches becoming a target. “I found that it is a polarizing issue, and it seems as if we sometimes have real difficulty even having conversations around this.”

The Rev. Becca Girrell of Lebanon United Methodist Church said the thought of preparing for an active shooter event also has crossed her mind.

After the shooting at DHMC, Girrell said she had conversations with members of her congregation who were at the hospital that day, and many of them said they would feel safer knowing that the church had a plan in place if something were to happen.

“I think it is so much better to be prepared and never have to use it then to be unprepared,” Girrell said last week. “It is a terribly sad realization but that is the place we are in as a country.”

Girrell said she is more likely to invite the Lebanon police into the church to develop a plan specific to the building’s layout versus attending the event in Nashua. She likened that process to when the fire department developed an extensive fire-safety plan following a structure fire at the church in 1992.

The New Hampshire-based company, Blue-U Defense, which is run by retired law enforcement officers who teach reaction and defense strategies, will put on the training. Joseph Hileman, an instructor with Blue-U, is the son of the pastor at Heritage Baptist Church, which is where the training will take place.

Blue-U President Terry Choate said the materials used in his program go above and beyond the traditional “run, hide, fight” approach, or the ones like it, that are often taught during active shooter training courses.

“We don’t need somebody telling us that. You will do one of those things,” Choate said. “We dig down a lot. How, when and where do you run, how when and where do you hide...”

Similar trainings are being held across the country. Choate, for example, said his company put on a training session in Indianapolis last week.

The Nashua event will be held at the church on 105 Lock Street from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Dec. 9. Seats are filling up fast, Choate said.

To sign up for the free session, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/active-shooter-response-training-for-congregations-clergy-tickets-39939500120

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248

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