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Police chief credits Baptist church for help in school hostage incident

CARROLLTON, Texas (BP)-Parents, students and the police chief expressed their thanks to the congregation of First Baptist Church, Carrollton, Texas, for their help during a Nov. 1 hostage situation at a high school directly across from the church.

Church leaders opened their doors to frantic parents who hurried to the school Wednesday to get word about their children after conflicting media reports about a student with a gun, the Dallas Morning News reported.

On Sunday, Carrollton Police Chief David James expressed his gratitude to the church and its members during their service, saying it was a community effort that helped prevent a tragedy.

“I come today to say thank you,” James told the congregation. “Thank you for the access of this building. Thank you for coming to those in need. In times of crisis, people of faith come together.”

The crisis that brought the community together struck when a 15-year-old runaway held his pregnant teacher and 19 classmates hostage at gunpoint in a geography class at Newman Smith High School. Minutes after threatening to kill them, the freshman put down his 9 mm handgun and lay on the floor as a police tactical squad prepared to break down the door. No one was injured.

The boy, who is not being identified because he is a juvenile, is being held at Henry Wade Juvenile Justice Center, where he is being evaluated.

Because the police had to close access to the school, parents were forced to wait at the church. As the situation changed, police officers and school administrators kept them informed, James said. In addition, church leaders allowed school and police officials use of the fax machine to send lists so students would know whose parents were standing by at the church.

After James’ talk, pastor Brent Taylor used his sermon to talk about forgiveness. Taylor said the crisis is a lesson on why it’s important to forgive people who have caused hurt. He said he understands that doing so “takes tremendous strength.” Yet it’s an act that “allows us to be more like God,” he explained. After all, he said, it was God’s grace and power that kept students at the school safe.

“Our name could have been associated with Columbine,” Taylor told the worshipers, referring to last year’s massacre by two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. “For some reason the Lord chose to work in our community. The Lord allowed peace in a time of turmoil.”

Students at Newman Smith High School said the church was the rock their parents needed during a difficult day.

Laura Neal, 16, Lauren Nelms, 16, and Cara Gatewood, 15, all sophomores and First Baptist members, said their parents waited at the church for them to be released from school. The teens said their parents felt reassured by school and police officials, who told them they were fine.

“The community really came together to make sure we were safe,” Laura said.

The mood at school following the incident has, for the most part, been normal, the students said. However, they said security has been beefed up, and school administrators are taking precautions for the slightest infraction, such as rumors of pranks made by some students.

Heeding the call of their pastor, the teens said they have found it in their hearts to forgive the suspect.

“There were circumstances that led to the way he acted,” Laura said.

Meanwhile, Chief James said he’s relieved that the neighborhood can move on.

“The Lord smiled on us Wednesday because everything turned out just fine,” James said. “This sanctuary became just that, a sanctuary.”

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