Chasta Mangum, a retired Virginia Beach deputy sheriff, usually sits in the back of Asbury Christian Fellowship Church during service, watching the door as a member of the small congregation in the rural community of Pungo.

In the wake of rampant mass shootings, including church shootings in Iowa and California this summer, Mangum asked the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office to give the congregation a Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events course.

“If something were to happen, it would take a while before somebody could respond,” said Mangum, who considers herself as the church’s security person. “This is the purpose of me doing this, to have the congregation have some type of knowledge of what you need to do.”

Chief Deputy Rocky Holcomb said attacks in places of worship, schools and shopping centers pushed the sheriff’s office to teach the curriculum.

“What’s going on on a national, state level, and within this community is having a big effect on churches,” Pastor John Calvin Smith said. “I think we need to be educated and we need to get up with the times. We can’t stay in the past.”

Nationwide, FBI hate crime statistics show that incidents of violence in churches, synagogues, temples and mosques increased by 34.8% between 2014 and 2018. Attacks have prompted faith leaders in the U.S. to take action, in some cases having armed security present during services.

Sheriff’s duties, all of whom responded to Virginia Beach’s 2019 mass shooting, delivered the CRASE training, which was developed at Texas State University and teaches three tools: Avoid, deny and defend.

The first tool, avoid, teaches people to prioritize exiting the building as quickly as possible during an active shooter situation. This means having situational awareness and knowing where exits are located, said Sergeant Nicholas Davison.

“The last thing that you want to have to do is hide,” Davison said.

The second tool, deny, emphasizes denying an active shooter access to people who are unable to leave the building. This often means hiding inside offices or bathrooms, turning off lights and barricading the doors, said Sergeant David Wilkes.

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The third and last option is defend.

“If all else fails, I can’t escape and I can’t hide, I’m going down swinging,” said Lieutenant Nick Curtis.

Officers walked congregation members and visitors through the church, pointing out exits, hiding spots and potential tools to use as weapons.

“Church should be a sanctuary, but recent events have shown that our places of worship can be targeted by people with evil intent, and we want our congregations to be prepared to protect themselves if the unthinkable occurs,” said Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle in a news release. “While we hope they never have to use this training, we are proud to give them the tools to react if an active-shooter shows up during a service.”

This marks the first CRASE training taught by the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, which has previously only taught active-shooter response to staff at the Virginia Beach Courthouse and members of the news media. Places of worship and other organizations interested in a class can request one at

The next CRASE training will be held at 10 a.m. on Sept. 10 at New Jerusalem Church, 118 Bishop Thoroughgood Ave.

Lauren Girgis,

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