VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — It’s an unfortunate sign of the times — religious organizations have become the targets of mass shootings.
Here in Hampton Roads, several churches are looking for ways to protect their congregations.
A pastor in Virginia Beach recently made a tough decision to keep parishioners safe.
Star of the Sea Catholic Church at the Oceanfront now has armed security at their church.
The pastor said it’s not what he wanted, but he felt it was no longer an option to question and instead, something to act on.
Each weekend, Fr. Steve DeLeon sees hundreds of faces from the altar, but this past weekend, there was a new face at the church.
“An off duty police officer in uniform,” DeLeon said. “It’s sad. It’s supposed to be a place of worship where everybody should feel safe but I think we are living in different times.”
In 2015, nine people were gunned down at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Last year, 26 people were killed at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Just 6 weeks ago, 11 people died after an attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
DeLeon said the synagogue shooting made the difficult decision a must.
“I think that was the last straw. I said no we have to do this. We have to do this,” he said.
A Virginia Beach police officer now guards the doors during every weekend service. Star of the Sea is the first church in the diocese to do this, but not the first in Hampton Roads. Many other churches are trying to be proactive.
On Thursday morning, about 40 faith-based organizations attended training hosted by Newport News Police. The training covered what to do in the event of an active shooter, tips on crime prevention and how to make a security plan.
Star of the Sea is working on that part as well and has asked Virginia Beach police to come and assess the sanctuary’s layout. We’re told the response from parishioners has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People I think appreciated that. In fact, they said they’d been waiting for that,” DeLeon said. “We will continue to pray that peace will reign and eventually we will stop doing this.”
Church doors will also be locked during services from now on.
DeLeon said some parishioners who are military have also offered to help in whatever way they can.