A Kentucky sheriff is playing host to a church security conference this week in eastern Kentucky, but it wasn't spurred by last month's shooting at a Texas church. Meantime, local authorities can provide security training to congregations who may request the help.
Rowan County Sheriff Matt Sparks said the security conference was "planned for a couple of months, but the timing was kind of strange."
On Dec. 23, a gunman wearing a fake beard pulled a shotgun from his clothing and began to open fire in the West Freeway Church in the Fort Worth area before being taken out with one shot by a highly trained member of the church's volunteer security team.
There were 240 people at the church service with many diving behind pews for protection when the shooting started.
The gunman was killed within 6 seconds.
It was just the latest example that no place is safe, and church security is more important than ever, Sparks said.
The one-day conference is free and open to churches of all denominations, businesses and the general public. It will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Better Life Church in Morehead.
"We'd planned this all before the shooting in Texas, but churches have always been a risk, in my opinion," said Sparks, a 34-year veteran law enforcement officer. "I'm a Christian man, saved and baptized in '98, but churches are no safer than any other place. It doesn't matter how small or how rural in today's world."
Lyon County Sheriff Brent White, a retired Kentucky State Police officer, said his department is available to show local congregations how prepare for situations involving a gunman.
"I offer it to church security teams in Lyon County for no charge," he said. "However, there are also private individuals and companies who do the same all around west Kentucky."
Much of the attention in the Texas church shooting was on the heroic security guard who acted quickly to prevent more carnage.
He was a highly trained individual who was prepared and not afraid to take action, according to reports.
Many, including President Donald Trump, hailed him as a hero who saved countless lives.
Sparks agreed that it was good he was there, but said preparation and organization were the most important issues with a church security team in those situations.
"Just because you're carrying a weapon, you don't want 10 people jumping in and criss-crossing shots across the church," Sparks said. "Something we really stress is when that bullet leaves your gun, you're responsible for it. Carrying a gun doesn't qualify you to have a shootout at the church.
"Like anything you do regularly, the key is training. It takes practice and getting into a routine. We like to call them safety teams."
Being organized and prepared is the best way to stay safe, Sparks said.
"We did one (seminar) two or three years ago and got some feedback from local pastors that they'd be interested in having another seminar," Sparks said.
Sparks said most of the churches in Rowan County have some form of security although others are less prepared.
"The other side of it, some say 'God will watch over his church.' We actually use some scripture where God talks about being prepared. He may not say anything about forming security teams, but He does mention being prepared."
(The Herald Ledger contributed to this story.)