A course educating the public on how to recognize potentially dangerous scenarios, and how to react to them, drew a crowd of nearly 500 people to a North Texas church Saturday.
The course was hosted by the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office and held at The Church at River Oaks in Greenville. Sheriff Randy Meeks said the purpose of the course was to help church leaders who wished to put a security team in place or businesses that wanted to better train their employees on what to look for and how to report suspicious activity.
The course comes two months after the deadly church shooting in White Settlement, but Meeks said they planned the course months before the tragic event.
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“Unfortunately, in a place of worship we have to be able to prevent somebody from coming in and shooting people that are there to worship God. That’s unfortunate, however that’s where we are today in America,” Meeks said.
Many of the nearly 500 attendees were from churches in North Texas, along with some school teachers and business leaders. The course was taught by Marx Howell, a retired inspector with the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Howell, who spent more than 50 years in law enforcement, gave a presentation on the behavioral red flags of church, school and workplace shooters.
“We need to encourage their friends, their families and their coworkers and if they see somebody who is out there struggling… let’s get them some help,” he said. “[Though] not all of this is related to mental health, because some of these people are mean, they’re evil and have evil intent in matter. Once they want to act out their grudge for revenge, there’s not much stopping them.”
Attendees were taught how to spot things that might seem out of the norm.
“Say you go into Starbucks. It’s normal to see people sitting there, drinking coffee, chatting, maybe a student working on an assignment with a laptop. That’s normal behavior,” Meeks said. “But if you walk in and there’s somebody dressed in black or arguing with a clerk or with a lady that’s providing him the coffee -- we are teaching them that’s abnormal and to get out of there.”
Part of the course included how to spot a potentially hidden handgun.
According to Howell’s presentation, there are clothing clues like open coats in cold weather or closed coats in hot weather. In both scenarios, someone could be trying to get quick access to the gun or conceal it, Howell explained.
Greenville resident Betty Brown said she took a similar course about 10 years ago, but it was time for a refresher.
“I love the part about a gun, to look at a person to see if there is a bulge anywhere on their person,” Brown said. “I work in Commerce, Texas. I live in Greenville, Texas and I want people to be more aware of what’s going on.”
Melva Hill, a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Wolfe City, said she would take what she learned about red flags to her congregation.
“I don’t think we’re very observant these days when this is a time we need to be more observant so in that particular case, I really want to drive that home to my congregation and my family members,” Pastor Hill said. “The shootings have just been so paramount that it scares me. There was once a time even when people didn’t believe in God, they still respected God. But they don’t respect God’s house anymore so we don’t have the shield that we once had.”
Sheriff Meeks said if someone ever does find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation, it is crucial to contact 911 immediately.