The testimony of LAPD officer Bill Rhetts; and how the Lord used him in a gun battle (active shooter) at a church in Los Angeles

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Bill 2A Matter of Life & Death; How the Lord used an LAPD Cop in a Church gun battle (active shooter)

by Bill Rhetts

DISCLAIMER: My Theology and knowledge of Doctrines (specifically ‘election’) have improved since writing this testimony (in the 90’s); hence perhaps one day I will revise it. The below church shooting was reenacted and later played on cable TV, and my testimony was featured in various Christian publications.

This testimony is to share with you how the Lord saved me from death; both physically and spiritually. He has sustained me through four officer involved shootings, ambushes, as well as other tragedies in my life. From the Hollenbeck Division riots, to the Los Angeles riots, and a 2-year undercover tour. May the Lord Jesus receive all the praise and glory.

A shooting is a terrible event to experience; the police officer who is forced to shoot another suffers tremendously; emotionally, physically and even spiritually.

It was November 14th, 1991. I was on duty (working a two year under cover assignment) in the city of Los Angeles (LAPD.) My partner and I noticed a group of five gang members acting suspiciously in a church parking lot. It was noontime and many people were outdoors. Within the next few seconds I found myself in a gun battle for my life.

My past
Unfortunately years prior to that aforementioned shooting, I was not a Christian. As a matter of fact, I was a self-rightness police officer. Pardon my ‘police jargon’, but after all… I wasn’t the ‘dirt Bag’ sitting in the back seat of my patrol car. The pride and self-righteousness that comes along with the badge and the gun failed me to forget; that I too had had been arrested in 1978, and sat in the back seat of a patrol car. I too was arrested and booked into San Bernardino County jail.

But later I realized that I too was also a dirt bag, a spiritual dirt bag. In God’s mind; I was a felon, a convict, a sinner who refused to repent, a ‘spiritual criminal’ in the eyes of the Lord. Why? Because my heart was depraved. I was not saved. I had not repented from my sins, nor confessed them to the Lord Jesus Christ (1st John 1:9.)

You see in the eyes of the Lord I was guilty! As I sat in the front seat of my patrol car, I had the same in common with the ‘bad guy’ in the back seat. I too needed a Savior. Because of my own sins, I deserved death, judgment and worse than jail… I deserved hell.

As a child, I was raised in a good home. Our family was raised into a religion, and at times we went to church. However, my belief in God was limited to the basic fact of His existence.

In September of 1986, my wife separated, and eventually she divorced me (for another man). This brought me to the realization, that I was not the man I should be.

Suicidal tendencies
I was distraught and desperate over this unwanted divorce. I had listened to the devil, and he convinced me that it just wasn’t worth living anymore. I began taking unreasonable risks hoping to be ‘Killed in the Line of Duty.’ That did not happen, so I planned my own suicide. Although I was so full of despair, that committing suicide would have not been good enough (so I thought.)

At that time I was a Los Angeles police officer. I actually planned (in my mind) how I would commit a controversial suicide while on duty as an LAPD cop.

You ask, “why would I share this over the internet?” Because if my story prevented just one life from the selfish act of suicide; then being embarrassed was well worth it. The LAPD has lost too many officers to suicide. Most of them shot themselves (aka eating their own gun.)

Friend takes me to a Christian church
About that same time I had planned this terrible event, a friend invited me to attend his church. I accepted that invitation, after all I was desperate. After his sermon, the Pastor (Greg Laurie) gave an ‘altar call’ asking if anyone wanted to become a Christian, to walk forward and repeat a prayer after him. That night I and many others walked forward. I repeated the pastors prayer, and asked Jesus Christ to come into my life. I was told by that pastor that I was now saved. Therefore I now had a reason to live, and the Lord took those suicidal thoughts away.

Although I continued to go to church, I then later continued doing a lot of things that I had done before “accepting” the Lord. I wanted to be able to say I was a Christian, but at the same time I was unwilling to give up my sin. I still wanted to party, get drunk, fornicate, and do whatever seemed fun at the time.

Fact is later in November of 1991, the Lord made it very clear to me that I was not saved at that 1986 altar call. I was a false convert, aka a CINO (a Christian In Name Only).

I learned then that being a ‘believer,’ simply made me ‘not an atheist.’ The Bible foretells that many “believers” will perish in hell (Matthew 7:21-23, James 2:19.)

Therefore, it was November 14th, 1991, that I became a born-again Christian; a cleaver, clinging and abiding to Christ (John 15.)

I’ve since learned that being told you we’re saved after repeating a ‘sinners prayer‘ or ‘raising your hand’ at an altar call is not Biblical.’ No one can tell me that I am saved; they can only tell me about salvation, and point me to the Savior. An alleged new convert must be thoroughly discipled. You can only know a person’s conversion to Christ by their fruits, and a changed life; but thru a test of time.

Having said that, had I died between that 1986 Arminian altar call, and the below November 14th 1991 shooting, I would have gone to hell for an eternity. Think about that. Are some souls saved during altar calls? Yes, but I believe the percentage is very low. More about my 1986 altar call / sinners prayer here.

After a violent confrontation with an armed carjacker – wielding a shotgun, I suffered serious injuries. I had several months off of work, and so I continued in my downward spiral. In other words, the word repentance wasn’t yet a regular part of my vocabulary.“

I would later learn in 1991, for there is no salvation without repentance.  Jesus warned in Luke 13:3 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12: 1-2).

The old man remained the old man
I did exactly what Jesus warned about in Mark chapter 4. In that passage (the parable of the sower) Jesus said that some people would receive the word of God, and begin to follow the Lord. But because they were not grounded on the solid rock of Jesus Christ, they would soon fall away.

Jesus warned about receiving the word incorrectly. He said, “And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (Mark 4:7). In verses 18 and 19 Jesus said, “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”

I dated several women, hoping to find a helpmate-someone who would be a suitable companion for me. My relationships were very shallow and temporary. When things began to go wrong, I would flee from the relationship. If I didn’t flee, then they would flee.

I couldn’t blame the devil for my sins, because I chose to sin. The devil tempted me, and my friends influenced me; but I still made those sinful choices myself.

The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 6:23). I knew the payment (wages) for my sin was soon to be-death.

Due to my compromising and hypocritical lifestyle, I soon fell right back from where I had come -the world. Although later learning that I had never left the world.

New LAPD assignment
In time, I changed assignments at the Los Angeles Police Department and became an undercover officer.

I had been issued a new identity by the police department, and the department of motor vehicles. My new undercover name on my newly issued drivers license was ‘Billy B. Starr.’

I worked every kind of vice you could imagine. While working vice, I was actually being paid to drink on duty. I was also paid by the police department to commit other sins on duty too.

I remember one day, as April 15th was approaching, I was preparing my taxes (back when the interest was tax deductible.) As I viewed my VISA credit card accounts, I was struck with the realization that there was nothing to write off. It was all alcohol related! What a waste of time and money!

For the next five years, I doubted and struggled with my salvation. I asked myself was I truly saved? Am I really a Christian? Did that 1986 sinner’s prayer really make me a Christian?

The Lord kept tugging at my heart. The text of Romans 6:23 keep playing in my mind like a scrolling movie script.

Thank God His Holy Spirit convicted me of my sins! Sometimes, after committing sins, I would cry from the guilt. It wasn’t even fun anymore. The Lord showed me what I looked like inside, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The 1991 Church shootout
I had many near death experiences, and have had to make the terrible decision of using deadly force (shootings) too many times. [1] But none would get my attention like the one in this Church parking lot.

When I confronted the gang members, I was immediately met with a hail of gunfire. This officer involved shooting was spiritually significant. The following will better explain why (including but not limited to.)

• It wasn’t the kind of shooting that lasts two or three seconds and then it’s over. This shooting lasted a long time. Too long of a time, but long enough for me to see the big picture.

• This gun battle included laying down suppression fire in a defensive manner; offensive shooting on the move; walking and running, and skip shooting underneath cars.

• This shooting was in a church parking lot. Tell me God doesn’t have a divine way of bringing back-slidden Christians and/or non-believers to repentance, and to church.

• There were multiple suspects. All five suspects looked alike, and it was difficult to discern my primarily assailant from the others involved.

• The F.B.I. statistics say that officer involved shootings last anywhere from one half of a second (0.5) to one and a half seconds (1.5.) This one was a major running gun battle/shootout.

• Regarding weapons, the worst two sounds you would here is ‘A bang when you’re expecting a click’ (accidental discharge,) or a ‘click when you’re expecting a bang.’ I experienced the click. All the while the suspects’ rounds were being fired at me, I was out of rounds, and I had to reload another magazine into my pistol. It was like a monster in a movie that wouldn’t go away.

• There were many vehicles in this church parking lot, because a church service was still in progress. This multi-story brick church was shot up, and there were bullet holes in many cars. One vehicle was entirely shot up, through and through.

• There was a time when the suspect was as close as 6 feet from me, while he was still shooting at me. Only because of the grace of God, was I not struck with any bullets.

• The glass fragments in my eyes (from the vehicles) were distorting my view.

• The last I saw my partner, was when he went down on the right front of our vehicle. I thought he was dead. Later after this shooting, I found him (my partner) kneeling down in a fetal position. He had a gun in one hand, and a radio in the other. He had used neither the gun, nor the radio… no not once. At first, I was extremely angry with my partner. But now I see that the Lord ‘allowed’ him to freeze under fire, so that I would be forced to TRUST IN THE LORD, and not my partner (Proverbs 3:5-6.)

• Later during this shootout, I finally utilized the front sights of my handgun. As I aimed the front sight (which is vertical) on the enemy, while aligning it with the rear site (which is horizontal,) I saw the figure/ form of a cross.

This was the Lord reminding me of my own sins, while I was fighting for my life. He died for my sins, and I was about to die as well. During this time my front sights were trained on my enemy, but my mind began to focus on the Lord Jesus. Romans 6:23 was still haunting me. For the wages of my sin in death……

I then called out to the Lord-asking Him to help me. Lord save my life physically, save me spiritually, Oh Lord save me!

After firing several more shots (hitting the suspect,) the Lord then gave me the ability to acquire that head shot. I fatally wounded the primary assailant.

I had thought it was the police officers ‘acquired skill’ known as the “sixth sense,” which took us into this church parking lot. Below explains what that sixth sense was.

As the deceased lie on the ground, I noticed a pool of blood. Within a few minutes his own blood had surrounded him. What immediately came to my mind was the precious blood of Jesus. I began to mourn over the sins I had committed, and was still committing. I was in willful disobedience against Him.

I realized that every time I sinned, I was stabbing Jesus in the back, or shooting Him on that cross, or stabbing that spear into His side. It’s one thing to sin, but after having claimed to have a relationship with Him, it was terrible. What are you going to do with Jesus that’s called the Christ?

LAPD had begun the paper process to award me with their prestigious ‘Metal of Valor’ award. However, I refused to attribute my survival to LAPD training. I can’t pat myself on the back for my tactics or training. It wasn’t me who did well. It was the grace of God that saved me. He saved me both physically and spiritually.  I should have been dead, but the Lord was shielding me with His armor.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Primary Suspects Past (Joel Mariscal – the deceadant)
Later I learned that these gang bangers were planning on killing members of a rival gang who had recently come to Christ, and were inside the church attending a “new believers discipleship class.”

It’s awesome to see how the Lord provides protection for His children. Only God knows what innocent blood might have been shed in the church if it weren’t for that so-called ‘sixth sense’ that we police officers have. I now know that this ‘sixth sense’ is God’s Holy Spirit speaking to our conscience, and directing our steps and actions.

The officer involved shooting team also told me they discovered that the suspect was wanted for a murder which took place Halloween night (two weeks prior). He killed a little boy for his bag trick or treat candy.

He had also robbed an off-duty LAPD Sergeant one-year prior. He stabbed the Sergeant in the back while the Sergeant was withdrawing money from an ATM machine in L.A. The Sergeant, critically wounded, then drew his concealed off-duty weapon and shot the suspect in the chest. The suspect was soon to be freed by the judicial system.

The average handgun round travels at a speed of fifteen hundred feet per second. It is evident that my name was not written on any of those bullets that night. As I look back at that event in my life, I realize that the Lord had a plan for me that day-to live! It was a Divine intervention. This was God’s wake up call for me.

Shortly after this incident I realized that the Lord had truly saved me. A sinners prayer didn’t save me. The Lord Jesus Christ saved me. My response to His Salvation was repentance, surrendering, and committing my life to the Lordship of Jesus as the Christ.

I can now say with assurance that my name is written in the Lambs Book of Life.

I still sin, and I still fall short of the glory of God. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

The only difference now is that I’m a blood-washed sinner. A truly converted Christian will still sin, but they will not lead a sinful life.

The very next verse in that passage says, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I have come to know a God of love and forgiveness through the person of Jesus Christ.

I didn’t have strength to repent, but the Lord by His grace, gave me the strength I needed. I’m ever so mindful of the words of Christ when He said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Paul echoed those words in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Once a man or woman becomes a born again Christian, the Lord takes residence in their heart, and then begins to change them.

The first thing the Lord changed in me was my X-rated mouth. He then cleaned up my R-rated mouth. He then changed me from an alcoholic, to a man living a sober life. And by His grace, I grew to hate fornication; and sin period.

The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As a born again Christian we receive a new birth, a newness of ourselves.

My desire now is to abide to the Lord Jesus, obey His Word, stay in fellowship with other believers, and share His glorious Gospel. I want to encourage those reading this to attend a Bible-teaching church weekly, and to stand tall for the Lord. Remember daily to put on the “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13), metaphorically as a police officer or a soldier does with their uniform and related equipment. As the saying goes, “Don’t leave home without it.”

As many of you know, it is difficult to find committed believers in the work place. The mind thought of many is ~ “It’s just not cool to be a Christian.” As I was growing in my faith, I often felt like an alien among my own brothers and sisters in law enforcement. At times it was difficult, but God was able to help me remain steadfast in my walk with Him. He’ll help you too. I encourage you to stay in church, stay in fellowship, stay in God’s word, and NEVER GIVE UP on your faith in Jesus.

You may have put your shoes on this morning, but a mortician may remove them at night. Are you ready to meet your Maker? Do you know where you’re going when you die, please read my Gospel tract here.

[1] LAPD Officer involved shooting reference numbers; LAPD DR 91-11-38265, LAPD OIS #130-91, LA Dep Coroner examiner James Dibdin MD. LAPD DR 96-04-25148, LAPD OIS #106-96. LAPD DR 97-04-08705, LAPD OIS #21-97. And re the RPD shooting / U.S. Court Federal jury trial, the verdict was appealed. However the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s verdict, #No. 04-57097 .


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