KRUGERVILLE, Texas (KETK) – It’s been exactly two months since a gunman shot and killed the beloved pastor of Starrville Methodist Church on Jan. 3.
Mark McWilliams was 62 years old. He was a passionate East Texas Preacher whose life was taken during a struggle with a fugitive wanted for other crimes. It was the latest house of worship in our state that became a scene of violence in recent years, dating back to Sutherland Springs in 2017, and it reignited concerns about safety.
In order to prevent such a tragic repetition, in a small town just outside of Dallas, lies a security firm with the motive of rearing churchgoers to fight, protect and defend their flock. It’s rigorous training that thousands of men and women have gone through. As KETK found firsthand, people learn to prepare for violence they hope they never see.
Robert Garza is just one out of the eight other people who attended Gatekeepers Security Services training with a calling to protect and defend their congregation. “Knowing that you’re willing to lay your life down and take care of the people of your church. I mean that’s what love is all about, right?” said Garza.
It’s an intense, six-day program designed to equip church security officers with life-saving tactics. “You take on that ownership of the people of your church. I’m not the shepherd, but I’m a sheepdog, help take care of the sheep,” said Garza.
The father-son duo, Charles and Will Chadwick spearhead Gatekeepers Security Sevices, a small subset of the National Organization of Church Security and Safety management. “The main focus of our whole ministry is to stop the bad guy,” said Charles. The two are on a mission of engraving a mindset of unyielding courage and bravery.
“We are the eyes that are looking out, we are the ones in the gate that are going to tell the enemy no,” said Chuck’s son Will, the senior instructor for this intense training program. Their team prepares churchgoers with a calling to serve for the worst-case scenario: a scenario a church in East Texas came across just two months ago. “The church can be viewed as a soft target and we simply pardon that target,” said Will.
Starrville Methodist Church in Winona lost 62-year-old Pastor Mark McWilliams when an intruder, 21-year-old Mytrez Woolen allegedly shot and killed him after hiding in the bathroom on Jan. 3. Despite having his own firearm, McWilliams was overpowered and shot with his own weapon.
“It is horrifying, we have the tendency to think that we’re in a secure area, yet we are finding ourselves being threatened at all times, not knowing where or when or how.”CAREY PONDER, SAFETY TEAM MEMBER, LANES CHAPEL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
For Will Chadwick, his duty is to prepare congregation members for those threats; seen or unseen.
“Unfortunately, some people come with the intent to harm, so we have to make sure that the people who are there to get healed aren’t getting hurt,” said Will.
Here’s how they do it:
Their training includes intense physical and mental training, ranging from defensive tactics such as how to arrest someone and get them away from others, playing out life-threatening scenarios through a simulator, extensive firearm training, and even psychological testing. “We definitely know that the training the guys receive helps them be in that correct mindset and we are looking for things that don’t belong,” said Will.
Will stresses, that knowing when and how to use a lethal weapon is paramount. “It’s not all about putting the gun on, making the right decision, understanding the use of force.”
Following the Sutherland Springs attack that killed 26 people, Texas law now allows licensed firearm owners to carry a gun inside places of worship.
According to Chuck, this is far from enough.
“I think everyone would agree that having a License to Carry, that an LTC certificate and license and the training associated with that does not prepare you to go up against some bad guy in a gunfight.”Chuck Chadwick, President, Gatekeepers Security Services
This is why Robert Garza and eight valiant volunteers from churches across the state decided to take the next step. “It’s the love of them all, every one of those kids, everyone of those women and men, those are my brothers and my sisters, my kids too, and I’m willing to do what it takes to keep them safe,” said Garza.
Their motivation goes beyond human survival and protection. To scripture, “There is no greater love than laying down one’s life for a friend.”
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