‘It Makes You Sick': Church Shooting Hits Home for Small Town Residents

At a restaurant in the small town of Westminster, Massachusetts, all the tables had a common topic of conversation Monday — the church shooting that left dozens dead Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

"It makes you sick," said Randy Conant, a regular at Westminster Cafe. "There's no words for it. No words at all."

Even though the shooting took place about 2,000 miles away, Conant said it makes him uneasy.

"I go to church, and now I'm looking for exits," said Conant. "Want to get away from the doors where they can break in and start shooting people."

The massacre left 26 people dead and 20 others wounded, with half of them still in critical condition. The 26-year-old gunman was found dead, likely of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after being chased by two good Samaritans, one of whom had wounded him in a shootout.

Back at the Westminster Cafe, at a table over, Marcy Hallock and her son, Corey, talked about how they used to be of the "it could never happen to me" mentality. They said Sunday's attack, along with the large number of other recent mass shootings, have changed their minds.

"It doesn't matter where you live," said Marcy Hallock. "It doesn't matter."

Pastor Chris Brown of the First Baptist Church in Westminster said he was heartbroken when he heard the news.

"Our church is responding with healing and reconciliation, because the world needs it," said Brown.

He said the opposite of love is fear, and so they are choosing not to respond in that way. He said it's not the answer.

"As a church, we cannot discriminate as a suspicion. We can't discriminate out of fear. Everyone is welcome into church," said Brown.

Brown said they have a fire escape plan, but he's not sure a shooter escape plan would even be effective.

"You can't say whether someone is coming in that door. You can't say it's coming in the front door or the back door or whether they are going to be seated in the midst of the service," said Brown.

Others argue it's commonplace to have an active shooter emergency plans. It's something Lt. Michael McDonald of the Westminster Police Department says  he's helped town organizations create to keep people safe in active shooter situations.

"Soft targets are very vulnerable," McDonald said. "Whether there is a church or a school, there needs to be a plan that can minimize what they can do."

Brown is looking for something more than a safety plan. He said he recalls something Edmund Burke, an Irish statesman born in London, once said.

"For evil to prevail, all that's necessary is that good men do nothing," he quoted. "And I think we need to do something."

Brown doesn't know exactly what the solution is, but like most people in towns like Westminster and Sutherland Springs across the United States, he said we have to do more.

"My wife said she's driving around and they've lowered all the flags. But then what?" he asked. "Are we just going to wait for the next one?"

McDonald still stands by training for active shooter situations. He said if you don't, then you won't possibly know what to do when it happens. He said police are doing a lot more training for things like this, but the reality is they won't always be there when something happens.

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