Three months after a foiled attack on a Gainesville church, members of that congregation and others met Thursday, Feb. 20, at Gainesville Police headquarters to learn how best to prevent another one.
“Let’s hope, let’s pray we never have to use anything we do tonight,” Chief Jay Parrish said.
The Rev. Michelle Rizer-Pool and eight members of her Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church were among the roughly 40 people in attendance Thursday night.
“What I’m also wanting people to take out of this, my people, in learning all of this and coming tonight, it’s a new norm in the world. Therefore, wherever you go, here you are now having learned about preparedness,” Rizer-Pool said following the two-hour training.
Cecil Randolph and Norah Borders, the chairman and vice chairman of deacons for Antioch Baptist Church, sat toward the front of the presentation led by Gainesville Police Cpl. Drew Reed.
Randolph said they wanted to “try to get the heads up on anything that could potentially go down” and spread that with other members of the church.
“I just think that everybody deserves to have access to good information if it can save a life,” Gainesville City Councilwoman Barbara Brooks said, who was attending training for the first time.
Gainesville school resource officers learned Nov. 15 that a 16-year-old girl had a notebook with “detailed plans to commit murder” at Bethel AME church.
Investigators believe she took knives with her when she first visited the church intending to “launch the attack,” but “by divine intervention, at the time she went to the church there was no one there,” Parrish said in November.
Reed presented materials from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, which was created at Texas State University
The training centers around the concept of “Avoid/Deny/Defend,” which means to get away from the potential threat immediately, to create separation between you and the threat and then potentially fight for survival.
Reed briefly walked the audience through the Georgia code section on justifiable use of force.
“A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes that such threat or force is necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person against such other's imminent use of unlawful force,” according to the Georgia code.
The code also says a person may be justified in using force if it is to prevent the “commission of a forcible felony.”
“These people who want to inflict harm, they don’t care about you … Know and understand that you have the right to defend yourself,” Reed said.
The presentation included 911 calls and videos from famous incidents such as the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, where two students killed 13 people. Reed brought attention to incidents happening closer to home, including the officer-involved shooting Jan. 14, 2019, at Lanier Dermatology on South Enota Drive. The man was accused of taking hostages before being shot by a Gainesville Police officer.
Rizer-Pool said she would like to continue doing some sort of practice drill with the information learned through these preparedness trainings.
“You can’t just talk it. You’ve got to make a plan, and you’ve got to put the plan in action to see if the plan will work,” she said.