Jenna Stephens–Staff Writer
An active shooter makes his way down the center aisle during Wednesday chapel. What do you do? Go!
The congregation in a church near Nashville experienced such a scenario in real life, reminding church-goers that one person’s actions can change a safe haven into a warzone. A morning service of worship and Scripture reading became one of survival and horror for congregants in the Tennessee church on Sept. 24.
The suspect, 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson, began his attack in the parking lot of Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, TN. Firing one of the two pistols he pulled from his car, he shot and killed Melanie Smith. But, the murder of this 39-year-old mother of two was not enough for Samson. He then proceeded to enter the church.
Samson walked down the aisle like so many had done before for wedding ceremonies, funerals, and church services. The only catch—he fired his pistol as he did it. Bullets flew at unsuspecting church-goers, hitting and wounding six innocent targets. Robert Caleb Engle, a 22-year-old usher at the church, confronted the shooter. The struggle resulted in Engle being beat with the pistol, and Samson accidentally shooting himself. With Samson on the ground from his bullet wound, Engle went to his car to grab his own registered gun. He guarded the suspect until police arrived at the scene.
The members of Burnette Chapel Church entered the sanctuary that morning without a clue of the horrific scene they would witness. In a place as “safe” and “Christian” as Northwest Iowa, a shooting like this would never happen, right? And yet, it is likely that the victims of the Nashville shooting would have said the same thing before coming face-to-face with a brutal attacker.
In 2012, Samson posted “Rise & shine, it’s church time!” on his Facebook page. He wrote about his faith and church regularly, and even invited friends to attend church with him in an effort to extend the church family. Members of Burnette Chapel Church said the shooter had attended services there a year or two ago.
A former church-goer turned murderer—who expects that?
Living in a world of daily shootings, bombings, and active war zones, it is easy to think of these events as devastating but distant issues. Are we numb to the news, and therefore numb to the threat?
“I just feel like I’m very used to hearing about them because they happen frequently. So maybe that has made me less nervous,” said Tori Mann, a senior from Colorado. “That doesn’t really make sense,” she added, with a laugh.
She went on to say that Sioux Center does not feel like a target because it is a small town.
This seems to be the trend in Northwest Iowa, within communities that experience low crime rates and no terroristic threats.
“While we live in a small, generally peaceful community, we are not naïve, and assume that this type of event could happen at Dordt, and consequently plan for it,” said Howard Wilson, Dordt’s Emergency Response Coordinator, in an email.
Dordt participated in a simulation with an active shooter in the fall of 2014. It implemented local public safety agencies, an active shooter in SB 1606, blank ammunition, student actors, and even simulated blood. After the simulation, a debriefing followed in which necessary changes were made to the college’s protocols. Procedures regarding an active shooter are located in a manual in each classroom. But, do students and faculty know how to respond? Because if a shooter entered the classroom, there would not be time to pull out the manual and read up on the topic.
Becoming too suspicious poses a risk to relationships and outreach, and constant fear decreases quality of life. It could drive a person crazy. But the Tennessee church shooting is a devastating reminder that living in denial of the risk could be just as dangerous.