Lakewood Church considers metal detectors after deadly shooting

Lakewood Church considers metal detectors after deadly shooting

February 12, 2024

By Claire HaoStaff writer

Lakewood Church is considering new security measures, including metal detectors, after a deadly shootingSunday between services at the megachurch, a spokesperson said.

It’s the latest shooting at a place of worship, which have been more frequent targets of shootings and otherthreats of violence as religious tensions rise nationwide. In recent years, it’s also become morecommonplace for houses of worship to beef up their own security.

That was true at Lakewood: It has a dedicated staff in charge of church security and contracted off-dutyofficers as security guards. Two of those off-duty officers engaged the shooter Sunday, killing her, accordingto authorities. A 7-year-old child was critically wounded and a 57-year-old man was shot in the leg or hip; it isunclear who shot them, authorities said.

Lakewood also has a bag policy and bag search before entry. Backpacks, luggage, laptop bags or any otherbags larger than 14 by 14 by 6 inches are not permitted on Lakewood property, according to the church’swebsite.

Lakewood spokesperson Don Iloff said the church has searched attendee’s bags before every in-personservice for the last five years. The bag search occurs in between and during services for as long as peopleare entering, he said.

The person suspected in the shooting, identified as Genesse Moreno, entered Lakewood with a backpack onSunday and two rifles, police said Monday.

Iloff said he didn’t know whether Moreno’s backpack was searched Sunday, but police said she confronted asecurity guard and then entered. The backpack was worn by the child, not the woman, he said.

Moreno and the child entered through an accessible entrance for disabled people, not the main entrancewhere the bag check is, Iloff said.

Church security expert: Bag searches not common

Chuck Chadwick, founder of the National Organization for Church Security and Safety Management, hashelped consult on and provide security to hundreds of churches across the United States, including severalmegachurches in Texas.

Chadwick said he’s not aware of other churches that search bags before entry. He wondered how Morenoand the child bypassed Lakewood’s bag search and got into the church Sunday with a backpack and a longgun.

Chadwick’s organization trains churchgoers, some of whom have police or military experience but not all, sothat they can be licensed as security officers who work at lower rates than off-duty police officers. This helpsreduce the cost of security for churches, some which may have tighter budgets, he said.

Texas law allows places of worship to establish volunteer security teams without obtaining a license orpermission from the state. Chadwick called it a “terrible law,” saying that without licensing, he worriessomeone could get unintentionally hurt. 3/3

In September, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that makes any security personnel – hired or volunteer– at a place of worship immune from civil liability for any death, damage or injury caused by their actions.

As of 2018, Lakewood has signs posted that prohibit open carry but the church allows for people to carryconcealed weapons.

Recent violence brings extra caution

At a media briefing Monday afternoon about the Lakewood shooting, Mayor John Whitmire said securitywould be increased at places of worship across the city.

“We’re increasing security. We won’t discuss publicly all provisions, but we’re going to continue makingpublic safety our highest priority,” Whitmire said.

The city made the same push to increase security in religious communities after the start of the Israel-Gazawar in October. That month, a Houston man was arrested for posting online about killing Jewish people. Alsoin October, a Conroe pediatrician was stabbed to death, which a national Muslim civil rights group has askedauthorities to investigate as a possible hate crime.

Some of the deadliest attacks on houses of worship include a 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church inSutherland Springs, a 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and a 2015 shooting at theEmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

The 21 mosques affiliated with the Islamic Society of Greater Houston have armed security guards at theirevents, said Zaiba Butt, an administrative assistant with the organization. The guards primarily help directparking but also keep an eye out for suspicious activity, she said.

Renée Wizig-Barrios, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, said it is also common practicefor synagogues in the Houston area to hire off-duty officers for security and to check who visitors are beforethey come into the institution.

Given an uptick in antisemitism in recent years, the federation hired a community security director in 2022,responsible for helping local synagogues establish a security plan and liaising with law enforcement whenthere is a potential threat. Last year, Houston synagogues received more than $1.6 million from the nonprofitsecurity grant program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is available to all religiousinstitutions, Wizig-Barrios said.

“We definitely know that every institution of worship is feeling this fear now, with the unfortunate nature of theway gun violence is growing in our community,” Wizig-Barrios said.

Correction (Feb. 12, 2024, 6:30 p.m.): The story has been updated with Chuck Chadwick’s name.