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Shield 616 founder and President Jake Skifstad tells a story about his experience with an active shooter while standing in front of 30 bulletproof vests and helmets Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Cheyenne Hills Church in east Cheyenne. Skifstad and Shield 616 donated $85,000 worth of active shooter equipment to the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – When Jake Skifstad checked his pager in Colorado Springs on Black Friday in 2015, he had to reread the message over and over again: “Active shooter at Planned Parenthood.”

As a member of the Colorado Springs Police Department SWAT Team, Skifstad rushed to the scene. And while his team had gear that would protect them against this type of automatic gunfire, the normal officers did not.

The vests they were equipped with only protected against shots from handguns.

The next day, Skifstad started Shield 616 to better protect first responders in these situations across the country. Since then, the Colorado-based nonprofit has donated top-of-the-line active shooter gear to hundreds of police and sheriff’s departments in 23 states across the country.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit donated $85,000 worth of gear to the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department so that in the case of an active shooter situation, the local deputies would be protected from guns like AR-15s.

“We want you to know you have the best gear out there keeping you safe,” Skifstad said.

The group’s name comes from Bible verse Ephesians 6:16, which reads, “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

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Donated bulletproof vests and helmets sit in a line during a presentation by the nonprofit group Shield 616 on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, at Cheyenne Hills Church in east Cheyenne. Shield 616 donated $85,000 worth of active shooter equipment to the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

In the U.S., the number of mass shootings has increased dramatically in recent years, in both the amount of shootings and how many people were killed each time, according to an L.A. Times analysis of 53 years of data on mass shootings. Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick said the job of a law enforcement officer has changed over the years, with new types of weapons and crime.

“Times have changed,” Glick said. “Yesterday, we lost officers. The day before, we lost officers. How many officers did we lose last year?”

Glick recognized the importance of having top-of-the-line equipment, as well as support from local residents and the religious community. Faith plays a big role in the organization.

Skifstad said even in the face of an active shooter, he felt Jesus’ protection.

He was largely able to get Shield 616 off the ground by reaching out to churches for help. Skifstad would visit different churches in the area, talk to the residents and gather support for the nonprofit. The donation to the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department was made possible by Wyoming’s Dyk and Richardson families and was presented at Cheyenne Hills Church.

While the gear is the main focus, Shield 616 also has the goal of building connections between law enforcement officers and local residents. Whenever the group donates gear, they bring magnets with the information of local law enforcement officers so churchgoers and residents can choose someone to pray for and help out.

“I just really love how this connects the community,” Mary Dyk said.

Dyk said some bake cookies each week for their law enforcement partner, while others babysit kids and make dinner.

“This sends a powerful message that our community stands behind our law enforcement officers,” Skifstad said.

And as Cheyenne Hills Church Pastor Galen Huck blessed the gear, residents stood behind the deputies to symbolize the role law enforcement plays in society. Huck asked God to protect the deputies and their families from any “flaming arrows,” and recognized the important job they do every day.

“We’re so impressed with them and the thin blue line that they stand for us,” Huck said.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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