By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
COEYMANS — Active shooter incidents have become all too common, with 61 taking place in 2021 nationwide, according to FBI statistics.
The increase in active shooting incidents — defined as those causing four or more deaths or injuries — has shocked the nation, but one local church is trying to give its congregants, and the community at large, the tools needed to deal with an active shooting incident should one occur.
The May 14 shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo that targeted African-Americans prompted an active shooter presentation at Riverview Missionary Baptist Church last week. A similar presentation was made at the church a couple of years ago, the Rev. Dr. Roxanne Jones Booth said.
“The active shooter in Buffalo targeted the African-American community, so the mayor of Albany and the governor asked places of worship of African heritage to reach out to their law enforcement officers to get some added protection,” Jones Booth said. “I did that on the Sunday after the shooting in Buffalo.”
Riverview Missionary Baptist Church, located in the hamlet of Coeymans, could be a potential target, the reverend fears, so she wanted to give people knowledge and tools to protect themselves should an incident ever occur.
“I believe that in this location, where we are, we might have people who might take their cue from somebody who deliberately went to an African-American community,” Jones Booth said. “People still identify this as an African-American church but we are not — we are a multicultural congregation, but people could think that way, so we are going to take precautions. I would rather err on the side of caution.”
Coeymans Police Chief Marc Tryon and Deacon Adolph Montini, a former security professional who is in the church leadership, conducted the presentation.
Mass shootings have become an increasing problem in the United States, Tryon said.
“There is probably no more somber subject than talking about active shooter incidents,” Tryon said. “It used to be once a month, twice a month — now it’s once a week, sometimes every day,” Tryon said. “I am not hearing, from my perspective, a lot of solutions. I think we all know there is a culmination of a lot of factors and nobody has a handle on any of them right now.”
The key to surviving a mass shooting is to be aware of your surroundings and take action, whether to prevent an attack in the first place or stopping or escaping one that is taking place, Tryon said. Listening to what people are saying and remaining aware of what is around you are critical.
“An adult who has the awareness and takes the time to listen to some of the cues that people throw out there — very rarely does somebody just go and decide to be an active shooter,” Tryon said. “They plan, they scout out the location, they prepare, they talk about it.”
What is the generic profile of a mass shooter? They are predominantly male, Tryon said, and can be of any age. They may or may not be connected to the location where the shooting takes place, and most of them do not expect to survive the shooting. They are usually a lone wolf, with very few multiple-shooter incidents, Tryon said.
The shootings are usually over very quickly, lasting between two and five minutes on average, he added.
The three key words to remember are “run, hide and fight,” Tryon said.
If you hear a gunshot, don’t assume it is a car backfiring — cars don’t backfire anymore — so take action, the police chief said.
“In a shooting incident, you need to take immediate action — run,” Tryon said. “If there are people next to you that will go with you, go immediately. Don’t wait to gather your purse — immediately go. There are many shooting incidents where people stayed behind in order to help a reluctant person and it cost them their lives.”
If you can’t run, hide, preferably behind a locked or barricaded door, but if necessary, use a heavy bench or table to hide behind.
“Go away from the sound,” Tryon said. “Always move away from the sound. Try not to corner yourself in a dead end. Try to find a door in a room where you can close the door and hide. Get as many people as you can, go as a group. You want to separate yourself from the incident and buy time. Active shootings happen in two to five minutes and then they are over.”
Shut the lights in the room where you are hiding and shut off the ringer on your cellphone — you don’t want your phone to go off and reveal your hiding place, Tryon said.
If you have to, fight — using whatever is at hand as a weapon. A fire extinguisher or chair can be used to bludgeon the shooter.
“Never give up — that is the key,” Tryon said. “You are fighting for your life.”
And if you are able to escape the building, run with your hands up. Law enforcement officers outside the building will not know who you are, so make sure they can see you are escaping the situation. And don’t try to dial your cellphone to text or call someone while you are running.
“Wait until you are safe before you take out the phone and start making phone calls,” Montini said.
Some possible signs of a potential shooter can include an individual who is carrying a large heavy bag like a backpack, wearing dark clothing or being overdressed for hot weather. They may keep their hands in their pockets and look like they are holding onto something — like a gun — and they may park their vehicle inappropriately close to the building.
“These are heavy warning signs,” Tryon said.
Rely on your gut instinct if you think an incident might occur and take action — don’t freeze, Montini urged.
“You’ve got to assess [the situation] — if you hear a gunshot, rely on your instinct, your gut, and assess where it came from,” Montini said. “Next is do something — act. Where people get into trouble is they don’t act, they just freeze. The next thing you know, you have unfortunately become a statistic. Once you are safe… then call the authorities and let them know. Run — get out as fast as you can.”
According to FBI statistics, there were 61 active shootings in 2021, Tryon said. Thirty shooters were arrested, 18 were killed by law enforcement or an armed citizen, and 11 committed suicide. California was the state with the highest number of mass shootings in 2021 with six, followed by five each in Georgia and Texas, four in Colorado and Florida, three in Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee, and one in New York, among others.