Religion

Manatee churches look to upgrade security after Charleston massacre

MANATEE -- Manatee County church leaders say they are rethinking safety after nine people at Bible study were killed Wednesday during a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

"We have not considered metal detectors or meeting people at the door in the past, but will probably now to be sure," said the Rev. Larry Williams of Bradenton's 201 Church of Christ on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. "We want the assembly to be a safe and secure place. If it is not safe and secure, it will prevent people from coming."

Williams' church is one of several dedicating Sunday services to the victims of the mass shooting. Williams said he will give a message about hate during the 10:45 a.m. service.

"We will recognize the people killed," Williams said. "We will talk about hate and how racism never leads to any good."

Deacons at Bradenton's Community Outreach Word of Deliverance Ministries Inc. on 27th Street East said they, too, will talk to people at the door and consider installing metal detectors, said the Rev.

Dexter McDonald.

"I think we will have to have our deacons really step up the security and talk to new people as they come in," McDonald said. "Eventually, I think Manatee County churches will have to have some kind of metal detector. I think this is something we have to work out with the sheriff's department. We will have to have Sheriff Brad Steube come in and do training. It's all for the safety of the parishioners."

Community Outreach's 11 a.m. Sunday Father's Day service will address the shooting, McDonald said.

"We actually have a special service every Father's Day where the fathers march in with their children and we form an umbrella over the children," McDonald said. "We will also have a prayer for the church in South Carolina during the service as well."

Manatee County Commissioner Charles Smith is chairman of the Deacon Board at Palmetto's Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, where they will pray for the victims Sunday.

"I was absolutely stunned that someone could have the audacity to open fire while people were praying," Smith said. "Times have changed. This was a heinous crime. This was a plot. This is something we will discuss at my church. You want to embrace people who come to your church with open arms, but now you have to be cautious. You wonder about a backpack. You may want to greet a stranger and see what their story is. You must protect the people who want to come and worship God."

Manatee County is no stranger to violence against community religious leaders.

In December, the Rev. James "Tripp" Battle was gunned down outside his church. Investigators charged Andres "Andy" Avalos Jr. with killing his wife, who worked at the church, as well as a neighbor before targeting the pastor.

On Jan. 18, Anthony Shinholster, 57, was found unresponsive by a friend in his home in the 300 block of 61st Avenue East. Paramedics declared him dead. No arrests have been made but Manatee County Sheriff's Office homicide detective Darryl Davis said it is still an active investigation.

Davis said he was saddened by the news of the Charlotte massacre.

"You are not safe, not even in God's House, that's the tragedy of the world we live in today," Davis said. "That's sad, that's truly sad. Church is supposed to be a place where you can lay your problems at God's feet and, while we are laying our problems at God's feet, someone comes in and acts out revenge and hate."

-- Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, contributed to this report.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond

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