NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Just days after hostages escaped a gunman at a Texas synagogue, law enforcement is offering to help train faith-based organizations to prepare for similar attacks, should they occur. Some departments say while there are no local threats at this time, being proactive and prepared can make all the difference.
“Unfortunately, most places of worship, most Jewish places of worship, Jewish community gathering spaces have to be mindful of safety and individual safety,” said Rabbi Celia Surget of Congregation Albert. “It’s something that’s always on the back of our minds, something we always look after very carefully.”
Story continues below
- Trending: City of Albuquerque says ‘Tacos and Tequila Festival’ is not happening
- Albuquerque: APD: Suspect in custody, accused of starting fires in bosque
- Trending: First round of tax rebates headed to New Mexicans
- KRQE En Español: Miercoles 18 de Mayo 2022
Inside Albuquerque’s Congregation Albert, Rabbi Surget says the potential for an attack on the Jewish community is always there. It was a terrifying feeling heightened when a gunman held members of a Texas synagogue hostage over the weekend.
“I think like so many, a huge, huge sense of relief when we heard that they had either been freed or escaped,” said Surget. She described the day as a rush of emotions from fear to anger to sadness.
The Colleyville, Texas rabbi sat down for an interview with CBS Mornings. He credits active shooter courses to keeping a level head during the hours-long standoff.
“When your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety. You need to do whatever you can to get out,” said Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker with Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, who waited until the shooter was in a vulnerable position. “I told them to go, I threw a chair at the gunman and I headed for the door and all three of us were able to get out without a shot being fired.”
New Mexico is no stranger to people targeting faith-based organizations. In 2013, a man was convicted of stabbing a choir director and multiple parishioners at an Albuquerque Catholic church. In 2015, explosives were detonated outside of two Las Cruces churches. Most recently, in 2021, a suspect set multiple fires at the Islamic Center.
These are just some of the reasons the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department has offered up threat and vulnerability assessments to congregations. From teaching how to equip worship facilities with cameras and security to recognizing danger, they hope to create a culture of preparedness.
“Whatever area where we have the community together, there’s always a potential to have an occurrence of some kind of violent event,” said Capt. Jon Day with the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Dept. “We try to provide information as best as we can to the community to be able to protect from whatever unknown could be there.”
While not going into detail about their own security plans, Surget says being ready for the worst-case scenario is especially top-of-mind now. “We have a lot to learn and looking forward, we want to make sure that we are, as much as possible, putting in places processes, training.”
The security non-profit Secure Community Network is also offering training to the Jewish community following Saturday’s synagogue attack. The interactive online training will teach everything from spotting suspicious behavior to recognizing a mental health crisis. Last year, 17,000 Jewish community members received the training and that number is expected to grow substantially.