Sutherland Springs church shooting worst in Texas history

Emergency personnel respond to a fatal mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Nov. 5. (KSAT via AP courtesy of RNS)

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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS—A lone gunman dressed in black tactical gear opened fire at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs halfway through the 11 a.m. worship service Nov. 5, killing 26 people and wounding 20.

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said 23 of the dead were discovered inside the church building, two were found outside, and one died after being transported to a hospital. On Tuesday, 10 remained in critical condition and four were in serious condition.

Those killed ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years old, and they included Annabelle Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri, who were traveling out of state on Sunday.

In Pomeroy’s absence, Bryan Holcombe was preaching. He and his wife Karla were among the casualties, along with their son, 36-year-old Marc Daniel Holcombe, and his infant daughter, Noah; their daughter-in-law, Crystal, who was pregnant, and three of Crystal’s children, Emily, Megan and Greg.

The shooting suspect, Devin Patrick Kelley of New Braunfels, was found dead in his vehicle several miles from the church. Kelley was court-martialed and received a bad-conduct discharge from the U.S. Air Force after assaulting his wife and child.

Law enforcement officials reported Kelley had sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended First Baptist Church. Neither Kelley’s estranged wife nor her parents were at the church Nov. 5.

‘Pure evil’

“There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today,” said Gov. Gregg Abbott, who called the attack the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

“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.”

Previously, the deadliest mass shooting in Texas was an October 1991 massacre in Killeen, when a man drove his pickup truck through the front window of a Luby’s Cafeteria at noon and then began shooting, killing 23 people and injuring more than two dozen others.

In June 1980, a shooter entered First Baptist Church in Daingerfield, killing five people and injuring 10 others. In September 1999, a gunman opened fire during a worship service for youth at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, killing seven people and wounding seven.

Expressions of concern

David Hardage, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, posted a message on his Twitter feed Sunday afternoon: “Our @TexasBaptists family sends our deepest sympathy to the FBC Sutherland Springs church family. #grace&peace.”

First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs is uniquely affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Fred Ater, Texas Baptists’ area representative for the region, noted on Monday morning pastors of several churches in Gambrell Baptist Association and the surrounding area already had been involved in ministry to the affected congregation and community.

Texas Baptist Men noted in a Facebook post its close ties to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs through Royal Ambassadors, the missions program for boys.

“We are heartbroken over the loss yesterday. We have a personal connection with several in the church. Some of our RA leaders and families were among the casualties,” said the social media statement posted about 9:30 a.m. Nov. 6.

TBM deployed chaplains to the Sutherland Springs Community Center and to Brooks Army Medical Center

“Our chaplains have worked through the night and into the morning hours as names were released. We are bracing for more that are expected to come today. More chaplains are en route this morning to help with the great need.”

Dan Franklin, associate endorser for chaplains with the BGCT, noted the Texas Crisis Resiliency Team had not been deployed, but two individuals the ministry trained were serving with another group in the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting.

“They do know that all of us are continuing to pray for them, and we are here to support them,” Franklin said.

This article originally was posted Monday morning, Nov. 6, and was updated Tuesday morning, Nov. 7.


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