MARSHALL, TX (KSLA) - An expected turnout of 40 to 50 people on Tuesday turned into 157 people from 50 different churches across East Texas, from Marshall to Jefferson to Longview and beyond, all coming to a class on how to keep their congregations safe from shooters and other armed threats.
Plenty of faith leaders told KSLA after the meeting that they had been looking for any advice they could get.
"How we can keep the church safer and make it actually a sanctuary without being so concerned about someone coming in and destroying people's lives?" asked the pastor of Jefferson First United Methodist Church, Rev. Brenda Lucas.
Father Andrew Ellison, the associate priest at Marshall's Trinity Episcopal Church, told KSLA he wanted to know every way in which a potentially violent situation could be avoided or ended.
"What can we do to protect ourselves, both peacefully and try to defuse situations and, also, what we can do if, you know, worse comes to worse?" Fr. Ellison asked.
Marshall Police officers taught this civilian response class, seeing a need for it after the church shooting in Sutherland Springs took the lives of almost 30 people more than two weeks ago.
During the class, officers showed real shootings and attacks caught on tape, including the moment a gunman opened fire on a Panama City school board in Florida back in 2010 and when a transient from Arkansas attacked several people with a hatchet inside a Marshall Walmart back in 2013.
"Avoid, Deny and Defend," MPD Training Lieutenant Len Ames told KSLA. "If you can avoid the situation, any way you can, to do that. Otherwise, deny by locking yourself into a room, preventing access to the person who's committing the violent acts. Ultimately, you may have to defend yourself and you need to prepare to do that."
During the class, Lt. Ames pointed to the moment during the hatchet attack when one man pelted the armed man with soup cans until he ran from the store.
"That's all it took. That's all it took," Lt. Ames told the crowd of more than 150. "What he did mattered. He stopped them."
Other subjects covered during the class were whether or not church staff or members could conceal carry inside.
According to Texas Law, concealed carrying is allowed inside churches unless there are signs prohibiting CHL holders posted by church leaders.
Under a new law passed just back in September, Texas churches also have the right to allow armed volunteers to perform security measures.
While MPD officers acknowledged these were hard lessons to grip, pastors and church members alike told KSLA they have a lot to take back with them.
"I took away that our church needs to come together as a group," said Jefferson First UMC Member Rhonda Ioerger. "We need to put some plans in place, some safety plans."
"The security team. We've had that in the past and it's a good thing to remember that this is something we can do," said Fr. Ellison.
A hope that officers want to spread to congregations, showing that they are not helpless.
"These are tough conversations but if it saves lives and empowers some people to take some action when it needs to be taken then that's the best we can hope for," said Lt. Ames.
MPD officers told KSLA that if other churches want to take part in these classes, they will be holding another in the future and the department encourages them to contact their own local law enforcement agencies.