Texas shooting victims

Crosses showing shooting victims' names stand near the First Baptist Church on Thursday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

DAVID J. PHILLIP, ASSOCIATED PRESS

TWIN FALLS — A hate crime at the Islamic Center of Twin Falls and a shooting at a church in Texas have raised concerns here locally about the safety of places of worship in the community.

The Twin Falls Police Department says church leaders have been asking questions about what they can do to protect their members. In light of recent events, police are inviting local religious representatives to attend a “Places of Worship Safety Forum” from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Council Chambers, 305 Third Ave. E.

Officer J.P. O’Donnell said this is the first step police have made to begin a dialogue about safety in places of worship.

“What we saw at the Islamic Center is obviously concerning to us,” he said. “That was obviously fresh in our minds.”

Police discovered in late October that a 4-foot cross draped in bacon, pig’s feet and a tongue had been left in the center’s parking lot. It’s still an active investigation, but police have not made arrests or released any updates on what they described as a hate crime. Muslims abstain from eating pork, under the rules of Islam.

Twin Falls’ only mosque has been vandalized and received threats in recent years.

Police also noted the Nov. 5 church shooting in Texas, when a gunman opened fire on worshipers, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others.

“Places of worship have a unique challenge when it comes to security and safety,” Police Chief Craig Kingsbury said in a statement. “It is important for us to make sure that every church, temple, synagogue or mosque within our community, are safe and protected.”

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O’Donnell said police also stepped up to assist schools after national school shootings in recent years.

“Trends will change,” he said. “Obviously, we develop new policing tactics based on some of that. With these increases in what we’re seeing across the nation, we want to start a dialogue.”

Police can help religious leaders learn what they should or should not do when faced with an act of violence, he said. At the forum, they will be taking questions from church representatives.

“The Church has always been a place of hope, comfort, healing and sanctuary,” police said in a statement released Friday. “The realization that danger could lurk within our Churches is a frightful and upsetting prospect.”

Leaders of any faith-based organization in Twin Falls are invited to attend the forum. They can RSVP by emailing O’Donnell at jodonnell@tfid.org or calling the Community Outreach Unit at 208-735-3445.

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