July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Religious leaders appeal to law enforcement, council for guidance

MEDINA — Local religious leaders are wrestling with a difficult issue: When should priests and ministers alert laws enforcement about a distraught person who might pose a threat to the community?

Representatives from three local churches — St. Francis Xavier, St. Matthew Lutheran Church and Second Baptist — met Tuesday with city and safety officials to discuss preparedness in the event of a mass shooting, such as in Newtown, Conn., and at Chardon High School.

Medina City Council's Health and Safety committee met Tuesday with local church leaders to talk about preparedness in the event of a mass shooting. From left, council members Mark Kolesar, Ward 3; Paul Rose, at-large; and President John Coyne. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KIERA MANION-FISCHER)

Paul Rose, chairman of Medina City Council’s Health and Safety Committee, said it was a coincidence the meeting was scheduled the same day that 18-year-old T.J. Lane was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison for the Feb. 27, 2012, killings of three Chardon High School students.

Lane, who shocked the courtroom during sentencing by wearing a T-shirt with the word “killer” written across the front and insulting the families of his victims with obscene gestures and profanity, was not a student at Chardon. He attended Lake Academy, in Willoughby, an alternative school for youngsters with drug and mental health problems.

Some church officials said they are prepared to immediately call 9-1-1 in the event of ordinary emergencies, such as illness and accidents.

But the Rev. Cornell Carter, of Second Baptist Church, said mental health issues present difficult ethical questions.

“I don’t think that we can afford to take a ‘law and order approach,’ ” he said. “It really does cut into the message that we are preaching, that we are trying to teach.”

Medina Police Chief Patrick Berarducci stressed that not all mentally ill people are a threat.

“Mental illness is not a predictor of an active shooter,” he said. “You can’t treat every mentally ill person as if they’re going to turn into a homicidal maniac.”

Berarducci said city police have been working with both public and private schools to better prepare.

St. Francis School staff recently received ALICE training, which stands for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate,” Berarducci said.

Public school officials throughout Medina County have received similar training.

The mass shootings in recent years have shown that students and faculty should be prepared to do more than “hide under a table.”

“Virginia Tech showed the fallacy of that,” Berarducci said.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.