Albuquerque, N.M. – In January I was contacted by Vince Harrison, the security team coordinator of Calvary of Albuquerque (CA) of a sad and shocking story that hit their church on January 19, 2013.
In light of the Sandy Hook massacre, the CA security team was conducting training for church workers and security staff on the topic of active shooter.
Unknown to Vince and his team, a teen-aged member of his church had just shot and killed his father, mother and three siblings this Saturday morning. According to police reports, the teen planned to go on a shooting rampage at a local Walmart store.
He had texted his girlfriend that his family was dead and that he had taken weapons (AR-15 and others) from the house to protect himself from the killers. The guns were in the trunk of his car, which was parked in the church parking lot.
Before going on to Walmart, he stopped at the church to see her, where she was attending a church function. Concerned by what her boyfriend was saying, she alerted a pastor that something was very wrong with her boyfriend. The pastor took the young man aside and talked with him.
After talking with him for several minutes, the boy finally admitted something bad had happened at his house and that his entire family was dead, but did not admit to doing it. The boy was the son of a former CA pastor, who now served as a chaplain for the Albuquerque FD. The pastor contacted Vince, a retired law enforcement officer, and requested he go to the house with them to check on the welfare of the family.
When they arrived at the house, Vince peeked through a window and saw Greg Griego lying dead in the kitchen. The APD was contacted while Vince stayed with the teen boy and the pastor.
When APD arrived, they checked the house and found Greg Griego, Sarah Griego, 9 year old Zephania, 5 year old Jael and 2 year old Angelina dead from gun shot wounds.
The investigation revealed Nehemiah Griego, 15, had become annoyed with his mother. Taking a rifle from his father’s collection, he shot his mother while she slept in bed. When he showed his brother what he had done, his brother began to cry, so he shot him. Next, he heard his sisters crying and shot them as well. His father was to return home at 5am, so Nehemiah waited for him to come into the house and he shot him when he came in.
I spoke to Vince just 5 days after the incident. He had experienced a great tragedy for his church family and a great loss for the community. He had been asked to enter into an unknown, dangerous and grisly scene because of his position as security coordinator and experience as a law enforcement officer. He was busy giving interviews about the incident, and he had returned to his regular job the following Monday.
Here is what he said in a Fox News interview.
“Harrison, who led the safety training Saturday morning, said he was called back to the church that evening after 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego told a pastor he found his family dead in their home.
“When I met Nehemiah, I knew something wasn’t right,” Harrison said Wednesday. “I could feel it, I could see it in his eyes and I could see it in his behavior and his demeanor so the red flags went up and that’s when I called the sheriff’s department.”
Harrison, who had known the Griego family for about 10 years, said he drove the teen back to the family’s rural southwest Albuquerque home to meet authorities, interviewing him along the way.
“He went into detail of where they were, where the guns were and he was very matter-of-fact, really cold so I knew something wasn’t right,” Harrison said.”
Vince wanted me to share this incident with those who read this blog and to those with an interest in church security. Calvary of Albuquerque could have been a scene of carnage and chaos, but thankfully God intervened, and gave the young lady the courage to tell someone who could help her.
Nehemiah had already killed 5 members of his family, so anyone was at risk that day at the church and at the Walmart he had chosen to target. The CA team, under Vince’s leadership, had just finished up active shooter training for the church and his team. There was no way to predict an incident of this magnitude had been perpetrated by the very person standing inside their church. They had a plan, and thankfully they were all there during this time on a Saturday.
What Lessons Can We Learn?
Since beginning CSA, I am always amazed by how much goes on at local churches. A week does not go by that a critical incident happens at small, medium or large churches throughout the United States. Most of the crimes that happen at churches involve property, but churches are in the business of people. These are people who have sinful natures, cause hurt in their own lives or cause pain for those they love.
Churches can be a place of great emotion, intrigue, politics, debates, affairs, mental illness, and all of these things together can unleash an unsafe environment for those attending church.
What is your team prepared to do? One of the most difficult things for any team or person is to maintain an edge when Sunday after Sunday nothing happens. Fight against this. Anything can happen at anytime. Train for the eventuality that violence can happen and be glad when it does not.
What would you have done? Would you have gone to the house or counseled the pastor to call the police? If you are asked to go somewhere, what is your role at that place?
Does your team have a presence at off times when there are events going on? Most teams I know of are just happy to fulfill the duties they have on Sunday morning. What about you?
Are there changes your church needs to make concerning security? Are there people in place to deal with deadly threats? Do you have a lock down plan? Has it been shared with the people who will need to lock down?
I am thankful to Vince for sharing this story. If you have a story you would like to share send me a message via the Contact button above. Names and dates can be changed. Your situation can help so many others who are trying to secure their church.