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Potential threat impacts church in Westminster, cancels services

Sound of gunfire discovered in voice message
Posted at 4:55 PM, Jul 16, 2019

WESTMINSTER, Md. — The tranquility of Westminster’s Church of the Ascension, popular with parishioners and their children, alike, turned upside down by a voice message fielded by the church's pastor on Saturday.

"It upset him. He thought it might have been what he described as automatic gunfire recorded," said Deputy Chief Pete D'Antuano.

D’Antuano says the Reverend reported the message to the Westminster police, and patrols received alerts to be vigilant with Sunday services scheduled for the next day, but in an abundance of caution, the church canceled all worship services and children's programs through Tuesday.

An expert in weaponry from the department has since reviewed the voicemail and at this point, there's no evidence of a credible threat.

"No, nothing at all, and we're not even certain that it was gunfire,” said D’Antuano. “It could have been a misdial. It could have been just road noise, we're not really certain what it was."

Still, police will remain visible for the time being in the area surrounding the 175-year-old church, and religious leaders there have taken measures of their own to beef up security, recognizing that whether this constituted a real threat or not, safety should always be a priority.

"We'd rather be safe, than sorry,” says D’Antuano. “Just with the number of shootings we've had at places of worship in the last several years, you can't ignore it. You've got to look into it as best you can and take any measures that you think are appropriate it the situation that's given."

Police say, to date, the church has not requested additional officers to man its grounds during the week or during weekend services, but the department is prepared to step up security there if needed.