Deadly shooting scene

Law officers cordon off the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, scene of a gunman’s shooting that killed at least 20 churchgoers and wounded several more during Sunday morning service. (AP Photo)

Deadliest mass shooting in state’s history; shooter also dead

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Tex. – A gunman walked into the First Baptist Church in this tiny South Texas town during Sunday morning service, firing randomly at the congregation and killing 26 churchgoers, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt reported.

Twenty others were wounded, some critically, in the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history. Gov. Greg Abbott called it an “evil act.”

The shooter was found dead in his car shortly after fleeing the scene, but it was not clear if he took his own life or law officers shot him. He was identified as Devin P. Kelley, 26, of Cormal County, Texas.

The victims were air lifted and taken by ambulance to nearby hospitals, including the Brooke Army Medical Center. Twenty-three died inside the church, two outside the church and one person at a hospital. They ranged in age from 5 to 72, said the sheriff.

Among those killed was the teenage daughter of the church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, who told the Associated Press the couple was out of town in different states at the time of the tragedy.

“We lost our 14-year-old daughter today and many friends,” Mrs. Pomeroy told the AP. “Neither of us have made it back to town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the Charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as I can.”

Witnesses said there were about 50 people at the 11 a.m. church service when the gunman walked in around 11:30 a.m. and randomly fired at the congregation inside the white, clap-board church with a double-door entrance.

“This is horrific for our little tight-knit town,” said resident Alena Berlanga. “Everybody’s going to be affected and everybody knows someone who’s affected.”

Sutherland Springs, an unincorporated town of 400, is located on U.S. Highway 87 about 25 miles southeast of San Antonio. The church is located just off the highway.

The massacre occurred one month after a gunman killed 58 people at a Las Vegas music festival, firing at them from the 32nd floor of a hotel suite. That shooter reportedly took his own life.

No motive had been determined for the church shootings. Agents from the FBI, Homeland Security and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene, assisting the Texas Rangers and the sheriff’s office in the investigation.

Amanda Mosel, whose 13-year-old goddaughter died in the shooting, told the San Antonio Express News she normally attends the weekly service at the church but did not do so this Sunday.

“From what I’ve heard, someone just walked in and started shooting,” she said. “It’s a small, tight-night church.”

A resident who lives near the church told the San Antonio Express News the gunshots sounded like “somebody banging a piece of wood” upon hearing a rapid succession of “pop, pop, pop” sounds, then a pause and another burst of pops.

She said the sound kept repeating itself but she could see no activity at the church. Minutes after the noise stopped, she said, police cruisers, lights flashing and sirens sounding, swarmed the neighborhood.

“I’m shocked by it,” she said, declining to give her name. “It is really unbelievable.”

President Donald Trump said he was monitoring the situation from Japan, his first stop on a 12-day, five-country trip to Asia. He tweeted: “May God be w/the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, who represents the town in Congress, described the tragedy as “terrible” and joined Governor Gregg in urging the public to pray for the victims and their families.

Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez, Jr. spoke for the community.

“My heart is broken,” he said. “We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, look what can happen.”