At Least 26 people dead in Texas Church Shooting

At Least 26 people dead in Texas Church Shooting

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Tex. — A gunman walked into a small Baptist church in rural Texas on Sunday and opened fire with a rifle, killing at least 26 people and turning a tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s most recent mass horror.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas confirmed the death toll, which has steadily increased throughout the day after the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. A pregnant woman and children were among the dead, and the authorities said at least 20 people were also injured.

Two law enforcement sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, identified the gunman as Devin P. Kelley, 26.

Mr. Cuellar, who said he was briefed by law enforcement authorities, said the gunman came from Comal County, which is northeast of San Antonio.

“He went there, he walked in, started shooting people and then took off” to Guadalupe County, which is northeast of Sutherland Springs, he said. The gunman was found dead in his car, the authorities said.

Albert Gamez Jr., a Wilson County commissioner, said it was not clear whether he was killed by the police or he took his own life. Mr. Gamez told CNN Sutherland Springs is a small community where everyone knows one another.

He said: “You never expect something like this. My heart is broken.”

Hours after the shooting, the one-story rectangular church remained sealed off, with yellow tape posted along the church grounds. Reporters poured into Sutherland Springs throughout the day as the tragedy transformed the once-obscure Texas farming community into the scene of the latest mass killing.

The unincorporated community has a population that numbers in the low hundreds — the 2000 census was 362, according to the Texas State Historical Association. The preliminary death toll would amount to about 7 percent of the population.

The service at the church last Sunday, which was posted on YouTube, began with a rendition of a song called “Happiness Is the Lord.”

Then the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, told his parishioners — 20 to 30 were visible in the video — to walk around the room and “shake somebody’s hand.”

“Tell them it’s good to see them in God’s house this morning,” he said.

Videos posted online show lyrics to the hymns appearing on television screens with parishioners playing electric guitars and a sign language interpreter translating the songs.

Scott Holcombe and Sarah Slavin said their parents, Bryan and Karla Holcombe, were among the dead. Sobbing on a curb outside Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville, about 15 miles from Sutherland Springs, Scott Holcombe said: “I’m dumbfounded. This is unimaginable.”

He added: “My father was a good man and he loved to preach. He had a good heart. They knew where they were going. There’s peace in that.”

A parishioner, Sandy Ward, said in an interview on Sunday that a daughter-in-law and three of her grandchildren were shot. Her grandson, who is 5, was shot four times and remained in surgery as of Sunday night. She said she was awaiting word on her other family members.

Ms. Ward said she did not attend services on Sunday because of her troubled knees and a bad hip. “I just started praying for everybody who was there” when she learned of the shooting, she said.

Eight shooting victims were taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, the hospital said.

Joseph Silva, 49, who lives about five miles northeast of Sutherland Springs, said the police had instructed his family and neighbors to stay indoors.

In a phone interview on Sunday afternoon, he described Sutherland Springs as “a one-blinking-light town.”

“There is a gas station and a post office,” he said. “That’s about all there really is.”

Mr. Silva said he had been approached by a woman who said she had two loved ones at the church who were shot.

“There are a number of individuals just weeping and just wanted to know what’s happened to their loved ones,” he said. “Everybody is pretty grief-stricken. Everyone’s worried.”

The First Baptist Church of La Vernia, Tex., about seven miles away, wrote on Facebook that it would open its doors from 5 to 7 p.m.

“Today an unthinkable tragedy occurred in our community,” the church wrote. “There will be pastors and leaders present to pray with you or to talk, and the altar will be open for us to fall at the feet of Jesus.”

President Trump, who was in Japan on a trip to several Asian countries, offered his support.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Twitter: “Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act. Our thanks to law enforcement for their response.”

 

Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, said in a statement: “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.”

 

On Facebook, a user described the church: “It is such a warm and welcoming church that is truly filled with the Holy Spirit and shows real Christian love and friendship.”

The shooting on Sunday was reminiscent of when a former high school teacher carrying four guns killed five people and injured 12 others in June 1980 in a crowded church in Daingerfield, Tex., about 130 miles east of Dallas.

David Montgomery reported from Sutherland Springs, and Christopher Mele from New York. Reporting was contributed by Susan Anasagasti, Maggie Astor, Christina Caron, Adam Goldman, Matthew Haag, Natalie Kitroeff, and William K. Rashbaum, and Jack Begg contributed research

Copy Righted NewYork Times

 

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