Gunman Opens Fire in Texas Church, 26 Dead, 16 Injured
At least 26 people are dead after a gunman walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas Sunday morning and opened fire on the crowd.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the announcement about the latest death toll at a press conference Sunday night calling it “the largest mass shooting in the state’s history.”
“There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today,” Abbott said. “Our hearts are heavy at the anguish in this small town, but in time of tragedy, we see the very best of Texas. May God comfort those who’ve lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities.”
There was a prayer vigil held within sight of the church building Sunday night. More than 100 people, including residents of the small town and others from the surrounding area, participated. The governor also attended the candlelight service.
Sutherland Springs is a small community of 400 people located about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio. According to a 2015 listing in the national directory of the Southern Baptist Convention, the First Baptist Church was established in 1926. It has almost 270 members and draws about 180 people for services on Sundays.
The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. Their identities have not been released.
The church’s pastor Frank Pomeroy told ABC News that his 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, is among the dead. He said she “was one very beautiful, special child.”
Pomeroy’s wife, Sherri, said in a text message to the Associated Press that she and her husband were out of town when the attack occurred, but they lost their daughter “and many friends.” She said she and her husband were trying to get home.
One hospital about 10 miles from the shooting says there “multiple” victims with gunshot wounds are being treated.
Connally Memorial Medical Center spokeswoman Megan Posey declined to say how many patients were being treated at the hospital but said the number was less than a dozen. The hospital is in Floresville, Texas.
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told the paper and other media outlets that the suspect walked into the church around 11:30 a.m. and began firing. The man has been “taken down,” the sheriff said.
Authorities are still trying to determine a motive. They have identified the shooter as 26-year-old Devin Kelley. Kelley was an Air Force veteran.
In a brief statement, the Pentagon confirmed he had served in the Air Force “at one point.” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said records show that Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge. The date of his discharge and the circumstances under which he left the service were not available.
Officials at the press conference gave this timeline of the shooting. At 11:20 a.m., the suspect was seen by a witness at the Valero gas station near the church. The witness described him as being dressed in black tactical-type gear. The suspect crossed the street to the church, got out of his car and fired at the church, moved to the right side of the church. He then entered the church and kept firing.
A local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged the suspect in a firefight when he exited the church. The suspect then fled in his vehicle and the local citizen pursued him.
The suspect crashed his vehicle near the county line and was found dead in his car with a gunshot wound. It is not known yet if it was self-inflicted or law enforcement that killed him. Officials said the suspect was wearing a ballistic protective vest and several other weapons were found inside the vehicle.
A federal official told the AP that Kelley doesn’t appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. The official says investigators are looking at social media posts Kelley may have made in the days before Sunday’s attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.
ABC affiliate KSAT.com was at the church shortly after the shooting. Digital Journalist Erica Hernandez posted the report below.
The area around the church has been cordoned off and FBI agents, Texas Rangers and ATF agents are assisting with the investigation.
President Trump reacted to the news via Twitter.
The president is on the first stop of a 12-day trip to Asia. Speaking from Tokyo Monday morning, President Trump called the incident “a horrific shooting.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of today’s murderous attack in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This horrible act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of sacred worship,” the president said via satellite. “We cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel, and we cannot begin to imagine the suffering of those who lost the ones they loved. Our hearts are broken.”
“But in dark times such as these, Americans do what we do best: we pull together. We join hands. We lock arms. And through the tears and the sadness, we stand strong,” he continued.
“My Administration is providing its full support to the state and local authorities investigating this horrible crime. I have spoken with Governor Abbott, and we offer our thanks to the first responders who ultimately stopped the suspect and rendered immediate and lifesaving aid to the victims of this shooting. I will continue to follow developments closely,” Trump assured.
“All of America is praying to God to help the wounded and the families – we will never leave their side,” he said.
Other government officials also took to Twitter to express their condolences.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, tweeted, “Keeping all harmed in Sutherland Springs in our prayers and grateful our brave first responders on the scene.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement on the shooting.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also weighed in on the tragedy.
“The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Sutherland Springs as tragic reports come out of First Baptist Church. My office stands ready to assist local law enforcement as needed. Please join Angela and me as we pray for those impacted by this horrific shooting,” said Paxton in a statement.
The church where a similar attack occurred last month also tweeted their condolences. Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee also wrote, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX.”
“Here we are again broken-hearted by evil and – this time – in a sanctuary for the Prince of Peace. We pray, we cry and we plead with God for mercy on our land. We thank Him for the first responders and we trust Him to comfort those whose pain is unbearable. May our nation pray,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez in a statement.