West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas

Church Safety teams are a good thing. In today’s world, there are countless situations where a trained and aware small group of Church members with the ability to communicate can enhance the safety level of a Church. The most likely threats involve children both in the form of child abuse and the child being taken by someone who has no right to take the child.

There are other issues of importance like health related issues, where having communication or basic first aid skills might save the life of someone who’s fallen or is experiencing a medical emergency. There are a lot of dangerously confused people in the world seeking comfort and a Church Safety team can be of great value in sensitively dealing with persons who have mental issues.

It’s a difficult task to monitor and deal with potential dangers in a Church environment because the object of the Church is to minister to troubled souls and share the Faith. Suspicious people need to be observed, but not to the degree they know they’re being watched. Outward observance of an unknown visitor would not only be rude, it would be counterproductive to the mission of the Church.

Of course, we also live in a dangerous world and Churches are becoming a target of violence. The FBI has placed Churches third on a list of potential terrorist targets, and of course there have been multiple attacks at Churches relating to personal issues like family disputes and marital issues. To deal with these deadly force events, armed Church Safety teams are a good thing but poor judgement and lack of training can be a recipe for disaster.  

The recent event at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, is the perfect example of a Church Safety Team deadly force event with a picture perfect performance by one member and unfortunately, a terrible performance from another which cost his life and possibly the life of another innocent. I have no desire to criticize the actions of anyone in the group, but there are serious lessons to be learned from this, a textbook case of a violent attack that was recorded on video.

Here is video of the event as recorded followed by a timeline of events: https://www.liveleak.com/view?t=a7Egb_1577654583

Keith Thomas Kinnunen entered the church wearing a long coat, fake beard, and wig and the Safety Team was made aware. Team members were familiar with him and he’d been in contact with the Church multiple times. At times he had been unruly when his requests for money had been denied. He sat down on the left side of the Sanctuary during communion. Jack Wilson, the Church Safety Team leader, advised the team there was a threat and Safety Team member, Richard White, seated himself two chairs to the right of Kinnunen behind the pew where he was seated. At this point, it might have been advisable to notify police, but it probably would have had no effect on the outcome. At one point, Kinnunen left the Sanctuary to go to the bathroom and returned to the Sanctuary.

0.01 Kinnunen stood up started to walk to the front and then spoke to Anton Wallace, who was standing in the corner, holding a communion tray. Jack Wilson began moving into position past an unidentified standing Church member.

0.04 Richard White began to move around in his seat. At that point, he was two chairs away from the bad guy.

0.08 Richard White motioned to Kinnunen, getting his attention. Why?

0.11 White began to rise.

0.12 Kinnunen pulls his shotgun as White stood and began his draw from a 6:00 position holster, White’s draw was slow, over three seconds, he never even got the gun to horizontal. He continued his slow draw while Kinnunen was moving the shotgun in his direction.

0.13 As the shotgun came into his view, Jack Wilson began his draw. It’s been reported that White got a shot off, but I see no evidence of that in the video. You can judge for yourself. It appears that his gun never got to the horizontal position; he certainly never got the gun to eye level. If a shot was fired, it was fired at the instant he was shot, possibly as in involuntary reaction. There also were reports that Kinnunen fired a third shot, but there’s no evidence of that on the video.

0.14 Kinnunen swung shotgun on Richard White.  As he moved the gun, the shotgun came out of his left hand.

0.15 Kinnunen shot Richard White and almost lost control of shotgun. It left his left hand again. Distance between Anton Wallace and Kinnunen was about eight feet. At this point, Wallace could have likely put hands on the gun, but he just stood there transfixed. He was not a member of the safety team. Inaction from shocked persons in a deadly force event is not unusual.

0.16 Kinnunen shot Wallace, then turned and moved toward the front of the Church. Wilson fired, hitting Kinnunen in the head from about 30 to 40 feet, based on 13 steps from Wilson to Kinnunen. Wilson stated he was forced to take a head shot because there were church members who might have risen and gotten in the line of fire of a center mass shot.

0.17 Kinnunen was down, Wilson approached and kicked the shotgun away.

0.20 Wallace rose and sat down, he spoke to his daughter, but died later.

0.23 Another armed Church member drew his gun and stood, fully eight seconds after the first shot is fired. Other Church members drew guns some as late as 15 seconds after the first shot.

End

Jack Wilson was a firearms trainer and trained the team. I’m sure he tried to get Richard White to practice more. I’m also sure Jack Wilson would not criticize White’s actions in an interview out of respect, but Richard White exhibited poor judgement by attracting the attention of Kinnunen to himself when he could have been getting in a better situation to do something.  His draw, that took over three seconds at a time when Kinnunen had a shotgun out, was almost suicidal. He was over confident and under trained.

A more discrete action would likely have saved him and possibly Anton Wallace might have survived the event as well. Had he done nothing and just sat in position, it would likely have given Jack Wilson, who had the skills that could have prevented any loss of life, time to get in position to stop Kinnunen as soon as the shotgun came out. Note that the shotgun appeared only as White leaned forward to rise and he had already engaged Kinnunen.

It’s easy to play armchair quarterback, especially when you can review what occurred multiple times on video. Richard White is no different from most other CCH permit holders in that he didn’t take the time to prepare for something that was a slim possibility. He was certainly brave, his intentions were to protect others at the risk of his life, and there is no more noble cause. He failed because he was not prepared. White’s decision to engage the bad guy from an ill equipped situation made it worse than it could have been. No one knows how they will react in a deadly force situation, but the importance of training cannot be overemphasized. A reasonably fast draw from White would have saved two lives. Simply sitting in position could have saved his and Wallace’s life. There is no way we will ever know.

The situation in this event is very similar to that of many churches in our area. Homicides were frequent in the area around the West Freeway Church of Christ, as in High Point. Local Churches often are asked for financial support from people who’ve made bad decisions in their lives.

In an interview after the event, Wilson stated, “Without regular practice, you don’t know if you can prevail.” I’m sure White was sure he could prevail, but he was a poor judge of his own abilities. For this reason, armed Church Safety Team members should train regularly and qualify at a higher standard than regular police officers, because of the close quarters involved in events like the one on December 29.

As I’ve said many times, the odds of needing serious firearms training during your lifetime are slim, but the stakes are very high. You don’t get to choose to place a bet. If you’re living your life, you’re in the game. Here is an interview with Jack Wilson: Texas church shooting hero shares his side of the story