“A Wild Story… In Which Pat Draws His Pistol…
In Church.”from: Patrick Kilchermann
founder, Concealed Carry University
host, The Guardian Broadcast
producer, the 3 SECONDS FROM NOW series[Warning: This is going to be a very long email.IF you’re interested in hearing this story,you may want to break it up into installments
and read it over time.]
The last couple months have been interesting, and I now have a story for you that I suspect you’ll find deeply fascinating. Now: I’m going to write a full analysis and review of all the lessons learned from this incident in an email that I’ll send another time.
For now… this is a story that I imagine I’ll find cathartic to share – and I suspect you might pull a few nuggets of wisdom out of this one.
“Well! That was exciting.”
It began like any other Sunday. I woke up before my little family and got busy preparing a big breakfast while knocking out sets of push-ups between tasks. We even managed to get out the door on time and it was a relaxing drive in.
WHERE PAT SITS IN CHURCH: Imagine a large hundred-and-fifty-year-old rectangular space of ancient roman architecture, with 4 gigantic stone pillars near the walls on either side, separated from each other by a distance of about 20 feet. My family usually sits against the right wall, 1/4 of the way back from the front of the room behind/near the first pillar. This day, however, the pews were full and so we were almost halfway back, behind the second pillar. I always sit furthest to the right, against the open aisle that exists between the pews and the wall – mobility and freedom of action.
As always, I’m carrying my 14+1 CZ75 with two 16rnd magazines in my front, left pocket.
Fifteen minutes into our service, I nudge my wife. I was irritated because a couple of the guys were moving around: One (a prominent businessman in that community) got up from the forward rows and walked to the back and another (a recently retired US attorney) walked down the side aisle with an expression that – to me – said something like “I’m probably being ridiculous, but….”. While not guardians, both are good quality men, and I was irritated because my intuition was saying “something’s up” – but they weren’t clueing me in. My wife brushed it off. “You’re reading into it. They probably had to use the bathroom.”
(I would later learn that the attorney did look for me.. but I wasn’t where he expected me, and so he grabbed someone else – a true shame! I am positive I could have prevented everything you’re about to read).
20 minutes later, halfway through and during the most solemn points of our service, we’re all kneeling in silent prayer. By this point, I have put my boy on my right (he was picking on one of his sisters) and my eyes are closed. Other than a baby crying here or there, you can hear a pin drop at this point of the service.
You can almost hear the pastor – back turned to us, himself in prayer – whispering his Latin, fifty feet away from me. Incense smoke rises slowly past a gigantic wooden Holy Cross, symbolically representing our prayers to Heaven.. and candles flicker. One could almost fall asleep from the peace in it all; with a hundred years of coolness radiating from the old stone walls and floor… When suddenly…… A door slams open from somewhere with a CRASH and a man’s voice begins yelling, screaming at the top of his lungs – screaming so harshly that one can’t understand a word he says!
Before I can even open my eyes, women are already shrieking in reaction. Now men take up the call, and as my eyes are snapping open I can already see that those in the front row are jumping up and pouring out of their pews – indeed, some are beginning to barrel over their pews to escape bottlenecks and move back faster.
I’m sure not even a full second has passed before the initial screams at this point, and now I hear the voices of grown men: “GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!”
The screaming intensifies and I find I am instinctively jumping up from kneeling. I push my son across me toward my wife and as I jump out of the pew and into the aisle I realize my pistol is already in my hand.
So, now I have a tidal wave of people coming at me, and my CZ75 ProTek ACCU is four inches out of its holster – still pointed down – pinning my button-up shirt up against my abs. My left hand is covering it – the classic ‘discreet draw.’
(NOTE: Even this discreet draw was a mistake. I must have said a thousand times in my career, “keep your weapon holstered and concealed until you’re within imminent chronological proximity to your threat.” This is not a mistake I’d suggest making: based on the panic I saw, I would not place too much faith in even people who know you intimately not mistaking you for a shooter. I will be discussing further WHY I made this mistake and the mental conditioning we can do to prevent this, later.) I’ll never forget their faces.The faces worn by the wave of people sprinting toward me down that auxiliary aisle will forever be etched into my memory. I’ve seen ‘the universal fleeing bystander’ hundreds if not thousands of times in videos and photos, but when it’s people you know and respect – and in full color and resolution – reduced to animal urges…. it’s powerful indeed.
Guardian: These people were lost within themselves. There were definitely some gallant protectors in the crowd, carrying three or four kids each. But I do not doubt for a moment that some of them had momentarily forgotten everything. Their spouses, their kids… their faces were flushed and their eyes were huge. I’ve seen a couple car accidents and I’ve watched two people die ‘in public’ of painful, un-natural causes. But this was my first encounter with mass hysteria, and I can testify that panic is a very wild animal.
At this point, maybe 2 seconds have passed. As the wave nears me, I smash myself back against the pew. Even still, I am hit by the wave and pulled back a step and a half, and I fight my way forward and back into our pew.
Trusting the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and abiding by what has always been my stated plans for a situation like this (to focus primarily on getting my family out safely) I shout “Let’s go!” at my wife, who has pulled our other children onto the floor and is covering the younger two, but she doesn’t react fast enough and I realize that with the time it would take to pick up our four kids, if we get out into the aisle at all, it’ll be at or toward the back of the pack: the kill zone. So I change my mind and put my hand out to say “stay.” Provided it’s one guy, I know they’ll be safer here with me moving forward to fight.
I say ‘know’ here. What would be more accurate would be to say ‘understand.’ The phrase ‘to know’ seems to imply ‘thoughts put to words’, where ‘to understand’ seems to imply the sort of ‘whole-body knowledge’ that you get [with enough of the right kind of training] even if there’s no time to put a single word to a thought.
I’m making a second note, because this is critical. It’s critical for me to write this:
In my industry, teachers are fond of saying: “In that moment, you don’t have time to think or react. Your training will take over.” This is not true, or at least it’s not mostly true. Our 3 SECONDS FROM NOW series works to stand and witness against this notion, and my experience in the church was yet another that confirms it for me.
What I experienced there and in the Sim arena many times was: you ARE still in your mind’s driver’s seat. You do have to decide and act. However, these decisions and actions are born of intelligence (data) that hasn’t yet been fully processed by the conscious mind (and likely won’t be until later), and then those decisions are carried out by a body that is reacting – partially consciously and partially automatically – based on that intel.
I have referred to normal life as that where we ‘operating outside of the consciousness curve’: where our actions are planned and then executed by our body. Operating on theinside of that curve is when our conscious minds must be bypassed for self-preservation.
We modern humans are ACCUSTOMED to operating on or outside the consciousness curve. And so it feels, to a degree, as if we’ve lost control when we’re operating INSIDE of that curve.
But as anyone who’s been through something like this (or any Guardian, anyway) will testify, as I’m telling you now: you WILL still be in the driver’s seat… but in a different way than you’re used to – I believe that in those moments we’re operating right on that line, weaving rapidly between conscious and unconscious action. We’ll discuss this more later. Anyway, there we are. My wife is face down over top of two small children and without looking I push my son’s back so that he slides into her. People are storming by us and still there is a wall ahead of us as 15 rows of people empty. I am desperately scanning through the crowd, in a kneel-crouch, trying (and utterly failing) to get SOME kind of idea of what the heck is terrifying everyone so badly.
The noise, I would describe as a CACOPHONY. Perhaps my ears were extra sensitive on par with some ‘On Combat’esc distortion of the senses, but I think in fact the noise was just plain old deafening. I was focused on listening for gunshots, but the sounds of screams and shouts and shoes and slamming kneelers and boots and stomps and sprints was so loud for those first 3 to 3.5 or maybe 4 seconds that for a moment I couldn’t tell if there even were any gunshots.
While focusing over the pew I apparently shout to my wife “I’M GUNNA GETTHAT F—–R!” I don’t know why I said this, and I didn’t remember saying it until she reminded me when it was all over. (I grew up in a poor area with a mother who cussed like a sailor: evidently I regressed for a moment 😉
My head spins around and I look up to the choir loft – a massive balcony hosting an ancient pipe organ, and by far the #1 pick for an active shooter perch. I scan and look for movement or muzzle flashes or anything at all – there is nothing. A face catches my eyes, and in the row behind me it’s a young woman, early 20s, huge, terrified eyes looking from me to the CZ that I realize I am again not hiding very well as I scan the loft. I recognize her but don’t know her – I shout to her: “It’s okay, I’m a good guy!” She nods and sinks lower. Note #3:
In that split-second, I was very, very frustrated by the lack of control among the crowd. I couldn’t see forward of them, and therefore: I couldn’t help them. I assumed there just HAD to be a guy with a gun to cause such a panic, and I could only imagine that God or ‘fate’ or good luck or incompetence led to some kind of misfire or mishandling of his weapon, buying us all these precious seconds.
Did someone tackle him? At this very moment, was a good samaritan losing his grip on the guy’s gun?
I had no idea, and I was absolutely haunted for those seconds by the certainty that all I could do was wait until the wall of people cleared up, thinning out enough for me to get through them… or… they fell. I hated the feeling of waiting.
I knew exactly what a pistol would sound like when fired in that hall and I could imagine what a rifle would sound like in there. Through the screams and men’s yells, I could perfectly imagine that deafening, plunging sound of rifle fire. The sort that echoes so loudly from every direction that you could never use your ears to triangulate its location. I cringed as I waited for that, and what would be the sounds of bullets snapping through wooden seats and off the stone floor and through and into God knows what and who else.
Again, without any real thought, I ‘understood’ in that moment that within seconds this situation would go from ‘good guy prevents lots of carnage’ to at best ‘good guy took action way, way, way too late and here are twenty or thirty or even forty bodies to prove it.’ (Down the three aisles in this church, these perfect fields of fire, rifle rounds could easily have achieved that in those moments of high density and bottleneck – just one or two mags).
I can’t describe to you the frustration of knowing all this WHILE knowing I had the power to stop it, but while being completely devoid of any ability to SEE a shooter, much less make handgun contact with him.
In that moment, I saw and felt all those trade-offs… and again, it was miserable.
People say things like thoughts ‘flash through your mind’. In reality, I think this ‘understanding’ that I speak of is closer to the truth. Rather than a reel being played, it’s just a bunch of stuff that is immediately, already, and infinitely (and miserably) understood. After what was realistically probably five or maybe six seconds since the very first scream…. ….the wave is finally thinning as it passes me. I step back up and move to the pillar that I always sit behind just for this reason. Glancing behind me, I see a close acquaintance of mine – a man I trust as a reliable fighter. I didn’t know where he was sitting before church, and I’m glad to see him now. I couldn’t tell at the moment, but in his (large) hands is a microscopic Ruger LCP, which he has also drawn. (Unchambered, he told me later. Imagine!)
I do not know why, but I made no attempt to communicate with him; I didn’t even note his facial expression. I simply understood that a good guy was behind me. I take note (again, ‘sub-consciously) that almost the entire church is clearing out. People are forcing themselves through the doors in the back. No gunshots. I turn around and I look at my family as my head turns. Around them are a multitude of people: men, women, and children, either lying in the pews or lying or crouched on the floor.
With all this writing, it’s impossible to convey that only between 6 and 7 seconds have passed for this entire event up to this point. People say: it all just happened so fast! It sure does.
Pistol at high-ready but tight to my face I lean to cut the angle around the right side of the pillar, and there’s a man from our church walking out of the room that’s called a Sacristy, on what you could call ‘stage right’, way up front. He appears shaken, but not in a panic. Curious! I move around the left side of the pillar and take in the entire scene. The pastor is standing where he had been, looking toward the back of the church. I don’t see any fear on his face – only alarm and confusion.
It’s quickly getting less noisy, but many people must still be yelling while they’re pushing out of the church because even still, it’s very loud.
I do not see a shooter up front. It feels like a lull, an opportunity – so – I step away from the pillar and out into the auxiliary aisle. I stare forward, pistol now at low-ready but covered with my left hand, and when nothing happens or moves for a second, I say loudly: “Okay, family! Up, let’s get up and get out!”
My wife is looking at me. Red face, very intense. My wife is a very tough woman. She grew up breaking horses for $300 a pop, abusing and breaking her teenage body in ways that horrify me now, for sums that barely register, and in ways that only we slum-dog ‘dime a dozen rednecks’ seem to be able to do while still walking away. I’ve seen her cry twice in our entire marriage, and while she’s not crying here, she’s as intense as I’ve ever seen her. I re-holster, but keep my right hand gripped on the pistol.
I would prefer to say I did this because I realized cops might enter soon, but the reality was that, devoid of any gunshots, I had already begun to feel sheepish for what was quickly beginning to seem like an over-reaction of epic proportions.
I encourage them as they’re getting up, glancing from them to the front of the church. “Yep, yep, that’s right guys, up and out, just head out the back doors, follow momma.”
I planned to follow them, but then I see so many other faces staring at me – from the pews and floor. They’re lying flat, eyes glued to me. I felt they were looking for direction. I announce: “Okay guys, let’s go, let’s get up and out. It’s time to get out now, come on now, let’s go everyone, up, up.” I say it again and again, but they won’t budge until I make direct eye contact with each one. One by one, the eye contact seems to unlock them; without it, they’re like statues. Only one remains, and I know her personally. She won’t budge. I shout her name and I’m surprised by how angry I sound: “L_____!!!!! It’s time to GET your kids and GET OUT OF HERE.” She jumps into action. (I later learned that her husband was serving in a different role in the church that morning.)
By now, I turn to see my wife pausing at the back of the church. I wave her out, but I can tell she doesn’t want to go out the doors, and I don’t blame her. There’s no shooting in here, and it seems as safe as the unknowns out there. (Exiting the church leads to a tall set of stone stairs and it’s completely exposed to a street and large parking lot — you’d never even know where the shots were coming from.) She’s a smart woman, and I decide to just move to clear the front of the church.
I do not know what happened to my LCP acquaintance during this time, but now (I’m going to guess 12 seconds have passed) I am coming back inside the ‘consciousness curve’ and it’s much easier to think and plan. I do not want to walk down the auxiliary aisle because there are a handful of doors leading to small rooms off that walkway – better to move to the center aisle and stay low.
I look around.
The first thing that I observe which stuns me is the number of personal items scattered everywhere. Hats, coats, books, bags, children’s toys… the place is a mess.
The second thing I take in is the reality that people are regaining their nerve and are sporadically jumping from their aisles and darting to the exit at the back of the church, one by one from random corners.
My eyes make it further to my left, and there is a man around my age, standing in the center aisle, also facing toward the front of the church. His eyes are glistening, and his thick mustache covers an intense expression. I’ve seen him before but do not know him, and I see that his right hand is under his plaid shirt, presumably resting on a pistol handle. I instantly like this man. He glances at me out of the corner of his eyes, and I realize I’m doing the exact same thing: hand on my pistol, shirt draped over my hand. Our glance says a lot.
Without speaking I begin crossing over to him with the plan of clearing the front together, but as I begin to move he turns and heads for the rear exit – bound to check on his family I assume. I begin walking forward, looking down the pews and off into corners, watching every angle as my forward progress exposes them. My LCP acquaintance is back and moving up the right side, far faster than I want to walk right then.
I still see lots of people: many are still hiding in their pews. And by no means only the old or handicapped. I don’t tell anyone that it’s safe or that they can get up. For now, as my eyes scan, I’m extremely grateful for how still and silent it suddenly is in the church. Note #5:
Whenever I review confiscated security videos of active shootings, I can never believe how MANY people just sit or lay there, like targets. Even able-bodied people: they sit and wait. This truly is the ‘freeze’, the ‘playing dead.’
Trained Guardians seem to be at risk of a 1-5 second freeze without enough sound mental training and Acclimation. That’s deadly enough. But for sheep…. it seems to be perpetual. 30+ seconds, easy.
Shooters in these situations have absolutely zero scruples about approaching and shooting these victims point-blank. Indeed: that’s where most of the body count comes from in those kinds of situations. The people I see are staring at me as a glance over them, cautiously moving forward. The pastor is still standing there (he’s a guest pastor, a foreigner from Africa whose dialect is so strong as to be difficult to decipher), and now there are two people outside that sacristy: my LCP acquaintance and another man.
I am satisfied by the time I reach the front of the church that there is no danger. It was an eerie situation.
I move over to the acquaintance.
“What’s going on??”
‘They’ve got a guy in there, pinned down!’
I enter the little room. There are at least six guys lying on top of someone – it would be comical if it didn’t just follow such a wild situation, because it reminds me of a cartoon football pileup. I look at a couple of guys who are standing around the pile, but they seem dazed and we don’t speak. I move up to the pile and look between the hands and faces and arms.
I see a very young man, maybe early 20s, face pinned to the floor. Glasses are bent sideways around his nose and cheek. He is crying HARD. He is wailing, sobbing, gasping for breath. Someone from within the pile is saying: “It’s OKAY. You’re SAFE. You’re in the SAFEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. People are coming to help you.”
I stand back up. I ask one of the guys standing around who looks a little more calm: “Any weapons?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“What was the deal?”
“I don’t know…”
I walk back out and there’s another (unarmed) friend who apparently peeled off from a pew and followed me up front. I say to him: “Well! THAT was exciting.”
He suggests that I go to the microphone and make an announcement. I, in turn, ask my LCP acquaintance to do it (who had followed me back into the room): I suddenly had the very strong urge to go and make sure my family was okay. In the end….
> The police arrived about 4.5 minutes after the first 911 call, and the first young officer sprinted up the side of the church, AR15 in hand. Fortunately, we had a guy go out and wait at ALL the exit doors (not just the main one) – and caught this officer as he sprinted up the courtyard to defuse his extremely high energy before he entered.
> Even this remarkable response time, of course, would have been miles and miles too late.
> The young man who caused the disturbance was NOT an active shooter… only a mentally disturbed person whose loud entrance and shouting caused a BIG panic. He had apparently wandered into the unlocked church in the wee hours and fallen asleep hiding in a wardrobe in that sacristy. When he woke up from his drug induced paranoia, he was panicked, thinking he’d been abducted.
> I was told later by several people, including the young woman who sat behind me, that my presence (including my pistol) were “..massively comforting..”
> The woman I shouted at later thanked me for kicking her into action.
> The young man, a paranoid schizophrenic, was arrested and taken away to get help. The church persuaded the authorities to not file charges, and a collection was taken up to pay for his mental treatment.
> My acquaintance says he will be promptly selling his Ruger LCP, and losing the 25lbs he needs to lose to carry a weapon that would actually provide some utility in a situation like that. I knew he had a S&W M&P, and I gave him a hard time for not having had it on him.
> Within 15 minutes, people had filtered back in and church continued… although with about 1/3 fewer people than who began. (I suspect some of them needed to go home and change their pants!)
> This was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. I am deeply grateful for it. THE END…. ALMOST.Probably, it is much more prudent to not discuss a situation like this until after all the dust has settled. But I do not see any harm in sharing this one. (By now, I’ve been inundated with security team meetings and presentations; I’ve done walk throughs with the police, we’ve worked out security protocols, I’ve been training and training and training.)
I wanted to share this and all the impressions with you in case you’ve never been in a situation like this one. You know me: I’m all about building vicarious experience. I’m also happy to put down a written record of what I experienced while it’s all fresh in my memory.
But most important of all, this incident carries with it as much fruit in the form of wisdom as any that we’ve reviewed in our 3 SECONDS FROM NOW series, and so I want to focus on that.
Now, this email was necessarily long, so I’m going to end this here.
If you’ve stuck with me for this long read: I hope you’re a little more prepared! The more we can expose ourselves to this kind of stuff ahead of time, the absolutely better prepared we’ll be in the moment.
Good luck… and stay safe, my friend.
– PatIn a few days, I’d like to discuss the concept of training and readiness in a little more detail.
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