In the past 20 years, horrific mass shootings have been thrust into public consciousness.

Although mass shootings are rare, they can happen anywhere at any time. 

That's why experts who train others on how to respond and fight back to defend themselves or others, say preparing and training are key during a very stressful and emotional time when bullets are flying and lives are at stake.

Austintown Lieutenant Lt. Bill Hoelzel and Patrolman Keith Smith taught basic active shooter strategies to several congregations at Highway Tabernacle Church in Austintown.

They believe practicing can help people make better critical thinking decisions that can help save lives in active shooter situations.

Smith said, "In past real-life situations people have not wanted to believe that a shooting was taking place. What people generally do is deny what is happening, so they waste those few seconds saying this is fireworks, or this is something else when they need to be taking action. People need to look for ways to either escape, ways to barricade the shooter from getting inside, ways to effectively hide or to confront the shooter. It would depend on their location, the shooter's location, and situation. There are women who have effectively stopped an active shooter, or stopped an active shooter from doing more harm."

Lt. Hoelzel said, "If there is a negative event taking place people want to run to the place where they came in, but everyone is running to the place where they came in, so just the simple act of having an awareness of other ways coming in and out when you sit down at a restaurant, at a concert, when your at school, when your walking through YSU, or when your at church be aware of what is happening around you. It is called situational awareness. It can help you respond, and it can help save your life or get you out of a negative situation." 

Hoelzel, Smith and other officers with Austintown P.D. worked with people at the training session to help them learn how to safely handle weapons and clear a room.

The Pastor of Destiny House Church in East Liverpool Christopher Wade said, "When this training was offered by a sister church we knew we wanted to come and we opened it up to church members. Sixteen members joined us today. Ten other members had work commitments and other prior commitments but wanted to attend. We have a police officer at the church but are interested in starting a security team for our church. This training let us know the security of a church extends to the parking lot attendants who are checking out what is going on, is there any unusual activity? The awareness also extends to knowing who is visiting with us. Our goal is to have a safe environment for people to come and hear about the Lord."

You can contact Austintown Police for information about free active shooter training opportunities for your group, or business organization in the Mahoning Valley at smith139@austintowntwp.com