Religious Leaders and Law Enforcement Officials Hold Meeting at FBI Headquarters On How to Protect Religious Institutions from Violence

Assistant Director Kerry Sleeper of the FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement speaks at a meeting of faith leaders at FBI Headquarters June 18, 2019. (FBI Photo).

Seven minutes, 24 seconds.

That’s how long the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says it took a gunman who opened fire at a Baptist church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas, to kill 26 people.

Many in the church on November 5, 2017 took cover under the pews. Tragically, that made them an easier target for the gunman. The gunman later died by suicide after an armed passerby confronted him.

The FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement says that from Sutherland Springs to Pittsburgh to Poway, it’s becoming sadly common—worshippers gunned down during their religious services.

Law enforcement and religious leaders met Tuesday at FBI Headquarters to discuss these threats and how to protect religious institutions. It was a conversation all parties wished wasn’t necessary.

“Everyone who attends a service deserves the right to do so in peace,” said Assistant Director Kerry Sleeper of the FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement. “That’s certainly our common goal here as we move forward.”

According to an FBI-cretaed article at https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories , FBI officials briefed attendees on topics like hate crime and terrorism threats and warning signs for shooters. They shared in-depth case studies on the shootings at Sutherland Springs and on the attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012.

The FBI said that while the events may seem random, many shooters do show warning signs before they act. In the case of the Sutherland Springs shooter, the gunman had a troubled history; he had been court martialed in the military and had a history of domestic violence.

FBI officials encouraged religious leaders to remind their communities of the warning signs so they can be handled appropriately at the local level. Depending on the threat, sometimes a simple mental health treatment referral is all that’s required.

But when attacks happen, the FBI offers its resources to state or local law enforcement, who are usually the primary investigators. In Sutherland Springs, a rural community with a small sheriff’s office, the Texas Rangers led the investigation. The FBI offered its national-level resources to the small community, services such as evidence processing and victim services, said FBI San Antonio Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Krupa.

The FBI said that as with all crime scenes on religious grounds, the investigative team took steps to respect religious traditions and sensitivities.

“It’s still a sanctuary. It’s holy ground, and we treated it as such,” Krupa said.

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SOURCE: Assist News