Active shooter drills come to Manchester church

  • Terry Choate, co-founder of Blue-U Defense, gives an active shooter presentation to about 120 parishioners and clergy members from southern New Hampshire at the Grace Episcopal Church in Manchester on Saturday. Lola Duffort / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/7/2018 8:46:22 PM

Surviving in an active shooter situation is about believing it can happen to you, staying vigilant, and if necessary, putting up a fight.

That’s the message trainers with Blue-U Defense, a Hancock-based company, brought to a little more than 120 people sitting in the pews of Grace Episcopal Church in Manchester on Saturday morning.

Everything you need to learn in order to “win” an active shooter incident, you should be able to learn “sitting in a chair,” said Terry Choate, co-founder of Blue-U Defense.

“Because if you have to get out of a chair to learn something then you’re likely being taught technique. And technique only works in controlled environments,” he said.

Over the roughly two-hour session, Choate, a former team commander at the Monadnock Regional Special Response (SWAT) Team, and his colleague, Joe Hileman, also a former Monadnock SWAT team member, repeatedly emphasized that the passive, lock-down approach to shooter drills have failed. Better to be proactive, they argued, think for yourself, and if necessary, even attack the aggressor.

“Are we unknowingly creating victims?” Choate asked at one point.

Take the example of a child getting beaten up at school by a bully, he said.

“What does the school expect your child’s response to that to be?” Choate asked. “Nothing. Go tell someone else, and that someone else will solve the problem for you.”

But adults sometimes don’t intervene, he said. And in the cases of active shooters, police and first responders usually don’t arrive until well after the shooter is done.

“When an incident like this happens there’s going to be no one there to help you or save you except yourselves,” he said.

Choate and Hileman also went through the different ways people had responded to past mass shootings, including by listening to audio from emergency responders in Columbine, Colo., during the infamous 1999 school shooting.

Blue-U travels the country and offers similar seminars to churches, workplaces and individual homeowners. Hileman said the business saw a big uptick in interest from churches after the 2017 massacre at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 27 dead.

“To see something like that happen in a rural part of Texas, people were like, well, actually, that could happen here,” Hileman said.

Especially in New Hampshire, he said, people at church training sessions always ask if ushers should start carrying guns. It’s something Hileman and Choate talked about in depth with the group Saturday, cautioning that while it was an option, it was one mired in potential problems, both from an insurance and criminal liability perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Marjorie Gerbracht-Stagnaro, the church’s rector, said she brought Blue-U in after attending one of their training sessions at a Nashua church.

“I think when you’re an inner-city church, people are a lot more responsive to this sort of event,” she said.

Just a few weeks back, a young man – the son of a parishioner – disrupted the service and had to be escorted out by police.

The incident ended without anyone being hurt, Gerbracht-Stagnaro said. But it still upset a lot of people, and likely galvanized many to attend the training.

“And even though you’re never really sure if you’re ever going to be involved in a violent event, the reality is it’s better to be prepared, mentally, spiritually, physically,” she said.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or

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