As a mother of two police officers, Debbie Skifstad knows a fear that’s becoming all-too-common.
"Our sons responded to numerous active shooters in Colorado Springs. They have seen it, they have been shot at. Thankfully they came home at night," she said.
She said that experience convinced her son, Jake, to start Shield616, focused on getting the right gear to any crew who may be responding to a similar situation. She said now, first responders are expected to confront active shooters as soon as they can, so her son began raising money to purchase gear to keep those officers safe.
The organization takes its name from Ephesians 6:16 "Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."
Shield616 has since expanded to 14 states, and Debbie wanted to help.
"I did my own fundraising, and I did pretty good, and he said, ‘Mom, take this back to Chisholm, Minnesota, my hometown, and see what you can do.’"
That fundraising turned into active shooter response kits for Chisholm Police, and other crews across the Northland including, most recently, Duluth.
"That’s the biggest gift we have been able to give," she said.
The funds were raised with the help of Duluth businesses, only there was one hiccup on delivery.
"The very tragic Husky Refinery Explosion happened that morning," Skifstad said.
Even so, six officers, including Mike Jambor received the 22 kits, valued at $1400 each, including helmets, vests and medical kits in case of a worst-case scenario response.
"It’s nice to have gifts like this coming from the community that we serve," Jambor said.
The vests are light-weight with 3-pound plates designed to protect wearers from any type of ammunition.
"If Shield616 hadn’t raised the money and bought these packages, we would purchase the gear on our own."
Jambor said many officers already have, out of pocket, but it’s not due to any incoming threat.
"This is gear that we we’re fortunate enough to be gifted in the hopes that we never have to use it," he said.
While he’s thankful for the 22 kits for officers, he said there’s a long way to go. There are 150 officers in Duluth.
The Duluth police say this active shooter gear is different from the riot gear they were considering buying at the end of last year.
This gear is meant to protect officers from rifles while riot gear is designed to protect officers from close, blunt-force violence.