NEWS

At Least 26 Dead In Shooting At Texas Baptist Church

Twenty others are injured.

11/05/2017 15:15 EST | Updated 11/06/2017 00:37 EST
  • At least 26 are dead and 20 others injured after a gunman opened fire at a small Baptist church in rural Texas on Sunday morning. The ages of the wounded and dead range from five to 72 years.
  • Multiple media reports identified the suspect as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley. His motive remains unknown.
  • Kelley was previously a member of the United States Air Force, serving at a base in New Mexico.

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas ― More than 100 people gathered outside the post office here on Sunday night, just blocks away from the First Baptist Church where a lone gunman killed 26 members of this tight-knit community on Sunday morning. It was the worst mass killing in the state's history.

"Who are we going to be tomorrow?" Stephen Curry, a pastor from a nearby church, asked the crowd. "We're going to be people of love."

"Amen!" the audience exclaimed.

Mourners held candles and raised their open palms in the air as religious leaders urged them to help their neighbors heal. Reminders of the tragedy were all around them. Behind the vigil, the lights of a police car continued to flash, and the road toward the church remained blocked off.

Mohammad Khursheed / Reuters
Local residents embrace during a candlelight vigil for victims of a mass shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday.

Officials responded to reports of a gunman at the church at around 11:20 a.m. A young white male wearing black clothing and tactical gear ― identified in multiple media reports as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley ― had opened fire with a Ruger assault-type rifle outside the church and then entered the building as he continued to fire.

As the gunman left the church, a resident began firing with his own weapon, causing the suspect to flee in his car, officials said. The suspect was later found with a fatal gunshot wound in his vehicle in nearby Guadalupe County. Authorities said they did not know who fired the fatal shot. Multiple weapons were found inside the suspect's vehicle.

Joe Mitchell / Reuters
First responders on the scene of the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tx. on Sunday.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed that 26 people had been killed in the shooting during a press conference on Sunday afternoon. A pregnant woman and several children ― including the church pastor's 14-year-old daughter ― were among the dead. At least 20 people were injured. The ages of the wounded and dead ranged from 5 to 72 years. A witness told San Antonio TV station KENS 5 that the fatalities accounted for about half of the church's congregation.

Shocked community members were still reeling from the massacre that took place just hours before. They described the unincorporated community, home to cattle ranches and oil fields, as the type of place where everyone knows each other. People move there to avoid crime, residents told HuffPost.

Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law enforcement officials work the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017.

"It's a nice, quiet town. It's respectful," said former resident Pamela Padilla. "We don't normally have any crime or anything ... It was a small town, and quiet until today."

"This has just been so devastating. It hasn't hit home quite yet," said resident Kelly Carter.

"It's very small, quiet. Everyone knows each other," said David Betancourt, 18. His friend was wounded in the shooting. The last Betancourt heard, he was undergoing surgery.

Darren Abate/Associated Press
FBI officers walk behind the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after a fatal shooting on Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Michael Ward had family members at the church that morning. When he heard that the killer had fled, he said he considered going after him. But when he saw the police en route, he went to the church with his wife Leslee to look for their family members.

The family of Ward's brother Chris was severely affected, Ward said. Chris' wife Joann is in surgery, as is Chris' son Rylan and daughter Brooke. Chris' daughter Emily is among the deceased, Ward said.

As of Sunday evening, authorities had not yet provided information about a possible motive for the suspect.

Stringer . / Reuters
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott gives an update during a news conference at the Stockdale Community Center following the deadly shooting on Sunday.

Kelley was previously a United States Air Force member who served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, from 2010 until his bad conduct discharge in 2014. He was court-martialed in 2012 for assault on his spouse and assault on their child.

Sunday's shooting comes just over a month after a gunman killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas before killing himself. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history.

President Donald Trump on Twitter said he was monitoring the situation from Japan, where he is on a five-nation tour through Asia. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was receiving regular updates on the situation.

In a post on Twitter Sunday afternoon, Abbott also responded to news of the shooting by calling it an "evil act."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the shooting "tragic."

Mike Gonzalez, who lives nearby and works at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, helped lead prayers at Sunday night's vigil.

"Let us not be people of anger," he told the crowd. "Let us not be people of fear. Let us build your kingdom as something constructive in the face of destruction."

"I propose that we make a pact, right here, in this small town, that evil will not prevail!"

Joe Mitchell / Reuters
A woman attends a candle light vigil Sunday for the victims of the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Tx.

Lydia O'Connor, Matt Ferner, Nick Visser and Samantha Tomaszewski contributed reporting.

​​​​​​​With a file from HuffPost Canada.