I was seven months pregnant on the day an armed man entered our church and fired shots inside the sanctuary.
We were all on edge for a month before this. An emotionally disturbed individual had disrupted the morning service on a prior occasion, rushing onto the stage and pleading for help—which quickly escalated to threats against the pastor and the congregation.
As the service came to a halt and emergency personnel were called, I nervously slipped out of the sanctuary and into the nursery to check on my two daughters. I explained what was happening to the Children’s Church workers.
Those who were able took action to de-escalate the situation and prevent the man from leaving the building and acting on his threats. The rest of us sat and prayed quietly until the situation was resolved
Even though it was a frightening scene, I also remember stating my sympathy for the distraught gentleman who was a quiet, infrequent guest at our church. “When this is over and things are straightened out, I’m sure he’s going to be very embarrassed. I feel for him,” I had said out loud.
From my perspective at the time, it appeared to be an isolated incident involving a man in desperate need of prayer, reassurance, and medical attention. We were told the erratic behavior was triggered by a complication with his medications, coupled with distressing life circumstances.
In any event, things like that don’t happen every day in a church service. There were changes in our security protocol afterward.
Yet, nothing could have prepared us for what took place four and a half years ago at Norwood First Baptist Church at approximately 11:30 a.m.
It is difficult to recall the exact order of events that morning. I’ve heard that trauma plays tricks on the brain and distorts memories.
What I clearly recollect is the pause. Our pastor was in the middle of a sentence and he suddenly paused, took one slow step aside from the pulpit and raised both hands.
I froze for the slightest moment when I saw our pastor’s paled face. In my gut I knew exactly what was happening. It was like I could visualize the gun even before I turned my head to the sound of the front door rushing open as the man—the same one from five weeks before—burst into the sanctuary brandishing the .357 Magnum revolver.
The gun and its shining metallic barrel was easy to see, oddly illuminated in the light filtering through the stained glass windows. It was held out at arm’s length and appeared to be aimed at our pastor, as if portraying a literal confrontation of good versus evil.
What followed happened in mere seconds which, to this day, are replayed in slow-motion in my mind.
Upon seeing the gun, two things were immediately clear to me: one, that I was ready, if it was my time, to leave this Earth; and two, that I was not going to accept this fate for my unborn son and my two little girls. My instincts screamed that I get to them—and get them out. Now.
Amidst the chaos that ensued, I hesitated only long enough to hear the first thunderous shot echo like thunder off the vaulted ceiling and someone urging me to RUN.
And run I did. In my swollen, third-trimester-pregnant body that was barely balanced even when walking, I managed to crouch as low as I could to the floor and sprint from the sanctuary, down the hallway and into the fellowship hall where the kids were gathered for Children’s Church.
They were hunkered under chairs and tables with our pastor’s wife protecting them, terrified and uncertain of what was happening.
I was in full panic at this time. We all were. My youngest daughter was right in front of me but I shouted her name more than once, unable to locate her face as I frantically fumbled with the lock on the back door.
With my four-year-old in my arms and the other children flocked around us, we fled from the building, across the gravel lot a short distance (which felt like miles) to a metal outbuilding where we gathered in a heap behind it, sobbing and shaken to the core.
I wanted to keep running—as far as possible from the church. Fortunately, help was already on the way, because my legs could not carry me any farther.
No one knew what was happening (or had happened) in that building. In my traumatized brain, there were several shots fired and church-goers were being picked off systematically, aisle by aisle. I cradled my girls in my arms and prayed like I’ve never prayed before. I pleaded for my husband (who had stayed behind) and our church family. I called upon the name of Jesus, over and over.
As more people filtered out of the building, it seemed that slowly, the panic was lessened and a peaceful stillness somehow hung in the air.
The incredibly good news came to us: everyone had been spared.
One shot had been fired into the floor. Almost immediately, one man, then five altogether, had tackled and subdued the gunman. A second shot was fired in the struggle but miraculously, no one was injured by these stray bullets. Not one person.
Each year as my son’s birthday passes, I think back to that day just a few weeks before he was born. It was the day I, along with our entire church family, witnessed a miracle. I can only be grateful for God’s mighty hand of protection over each one who came to worship that Sunday morning.
I believe that spiritual warfare is alive and well, yet sometimes it comes against us in ways we can’t mentally prepare for. When it does come, the testing can either strengthen our faith or make us question it entirely. That part is up to us.
What I know without a doubt is this: my faith rests in a God who has secured my soul despite whatever comes.
When evil enters the places we hold most sacred—God is still with us. He is always with us. He hears our prayers and makes His presence known.