Religious leaders talk violence and safety

Church Safety

PUEBLO, Colo. - A former U.S. Marshal cautioned religious leaders in Pueblo: places of worship can quickly go from sacred to violent.

Tina Lewis Rowe served as a U.S. Marshal to Colorado for eight years. Before that, she was a police officer in Denver for 25 years. She spoke with about 100 religious leaders in Pueblo about how to keep their holy places safe. 

"We need to make sure that all people that come into our church are protected," said John Garcia, a church elder who attended the workshop organized by the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office.

Few moments hit closer to home for religious leaders than the shooting at New Life Church in Colorado Springs in 2007. A gunman killed two people before he took his own life. Donny Gordon was at the church that day.

"Just started hearing a huge commotion come to the hallway and saw people kind of running down that way and heard gunfire," he recalled.

Gordon said he hid for two hours and waited. "It was quite a while, while the police made sure there wasn't anybody else," he said.

Tragedies like the shooting at New Life aren't the only ones Rowe hopes to help prevent. She's also focused on sexual assaults. "It does better when we say let's just establish some best practices and one of the best practices is we don't let children be alone with one adult when we could have two adults," Rowe said.

Also on her agenda -- helping worshippers avoid being robbed.

"We do check our parking lot, twice, during the service. We walk around the perimeter to make sure everything is safe," said Paul Montoya, an outreach pastor.

Rowe wouldn't go as far as to encourage leaders to carry guns inside their places of worship. But one pastor said people would be surprised to hear how often others do.

Garcia said, "God knows where to put his people to protect his own. And so I think people would be surprised."

The Pueblo County Sheriff's Office said there have not been any threats to religious institutions. Deputies said they hosted the event because they want to be proactive.

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