(TNS) - Religious leaders and business owners on Monday were forced to confront an otherwise unimaginable possibility: What would you do if a gunman opened fire on a crowd here in Delray Beach?
It isn’t easy to think about, but an all too common reality, said Delray Beach Police Chief Jeff Goldman, whose department offered active-shooter training to locals.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And I had that deer-in-the-headlight look,” Goldman said. “If you haven’t been watching television, and you haven’t been seeing what’s going on around the world … it’s sad. It’s just sad.”
About 60 Delray Beach business owners and leaders of religious congregations convened at Old School Square cultural campus for advice on how to react while an assailant fires aimlessly into a crowd or in a building.
Palm Beach Gardens held similar active-shooter training for its city staff.
The main takeaway, Delray Beach police said, should be: run; hide; and fight — a mantra that parallels a widespread Homeland Security message.
“The best thing you can do is prepare for the worst,” said SWAT Detective Noel Rusczyk, who urged business owners to create a “site plan” that outlines exit strategies, hiding places and — worst case scenario — how to fight.
But, Rusczyk said, if you can get out, do.
“Run. Run fast. Run far,” he said.
The presentation included an eerie video from Homeland Security showing a gunman casually walk into a business building, then opening fire, killing many and forcing others into hiding or out of the building.
“Unfortunately, in today’s society, we as a group have got to talk about this,” Goldman said.
People’s first instinct in such an event is to panic, Rusczyk said. But chaos impedes officers’ abilities to subdue the gunman.
“We’re (coming in) yelling. We’re going to be loud. We’re going to be aggressive,” Rusczyk said. “Bottom line: It’s a bad situation. We can’t decipher who you are.”
Victims should raise their hands and wiggle their fingers, to show police they are unarmed.
And if worst comes to worst, and you’re cornered during an active-shooter event, “anything can be used as a weapon,” Rusczyk said.
“Are we sheep? No, we’re not. We have to fight if that’s our last option,” he said, pointing to the Charleston church shooting in which white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine churchgoers on June 17, 2015.
He told Delray Beach residents to overpower their assailant.
“Chances are someone could get shot … But if you fight, you may die. If you do nothing, you will die.”
The Charleston church reference hit hard for many religious leaders in the crowd.
“We teach people to be nonviolent,” said the Rev. Brad Lutz, of Church of the Palms in Delray Beach. “It’s such a contradiction to encourage people to fight in that situation. That’s a real challenge.”
Police offered to visit any local businesses and churches to help identify security needs, like access points, cameras or gates, and come up with a crisis plan.
“I never thought about the site planning piece,” Lutz said. “Now I’m thinking you never know.”
Many in the crowd pressed police about arming themselves with weapons and how to prepare for crowded events on Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue.
Police flood downtown events, and block the roadways with large vehicles or dump trucks. And it’s easier to flee from an open event in the streets than an office building, Rusczyk said.
As for civilians arming themselves, Delray police wouldn’t take a stance on a topic dividing a nation faced with seemingly commonplace mass shootings.
“I’m not standing here endorsing vigilantism or anything like that,” Rusczyk said. “But if you are a concealed weapons carrier, and you are confident, and you have the opportunity to use that to save somebody’s life … I’m not going to tell you not to.”
George Daniell, a junior warden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said the presentation was sure to “short-circuit the brains” of many.
“You always think it happens to someone else. Never to you,” Daniell said. “It is scary.”
©2018 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
Visit The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) at www.palmbeachpost.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.