About 27 people have been killed and another dozens more were injured in a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, according to Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt and Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr.
“You would never think that something like this could happen,” said Gamez, who reported that the gunman fled in a vehicle with deputies in pursuit and is now dead, although it was not clear if the gunman shot himself or was killed by authorities..
A man later identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, age 26, of neighboring Comal County, entered the church wearing black combat gear and began firing with an assault rifle, at around 11:30 a.m. local time, killing at least 25 people.
Kelley died following a short police pursuit but it was not immediately apparent whether he was killed by officers or if his wounds were self-inflicted.
Law enforcement officials were preparing to search the gunman’s home on Sunday evening.
Kelley is a former U.S. Air Force member who served from 2010 to 2014. He received a dishonorable discharge after he was court martialed in May 2014.
A pregnant woman and several children — including the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter — were among those killed in the Texas bloodbath.
There was no immediate information on the reason behind the shooting, according to Sheriff Tackett. Federal officials said while the gunman’s motivation was unclear, there were no obvious signs of a connection to terrorism.
The horrific shooting wounded almost everyone inside the small white church building in the town of only a few hundred people.
Congressman Vicente Gonzalez said that he did not believe the incident was related to terrorism, but “was some kind of other incident that has to do with the church or the community.”
“It’s a rural community and a conservative, mostly farmers and ranchers and people who work out in the oil and gas patches,” said Gonzalez, adding that the area was “very tranquil and very safe.”
Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, said their teenage daughter, Annabelle, was among at least 27 members of the congregation killed in the attack.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in a post on Twitter that it was sending special agents from its field offices in Houston and San Antonio to respond to the site of the shooting.
Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville, Texas, had taken in eight patients, according to spokesperson Megan Posey, who said four of those patients were transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio “for higher level of care,” two were discharged and two remained in treatment at the hospital.
A spokesman for the University Health System said the hospital in San Antonio had received five adults and four children, with a 10th person expected from a rural hospital.
A pregnant woman and more than one child were among the dead.
One 2-year-old child was shot and a 5-year-old who was struck four times and remained in surgery Sunday night.
Scott Holcombe and Sarah Slavin said their parents, Bryan and Karla Holcombe, were among the dead. Outside Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville, 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.
Governor Greg Abbott, who signed legislation earlier this year reducing cost of a license to carry a handgun in Texas and sacrificing revenue of $12.6 million in 2018, sent his “sincerest thoughts and prayers” to the victims.
“Texas is known for its strong Second Amendment rights laws, and I’m proud to further strengthen those rights,” said Abbott at the time he loosened gun law, the same day a reporter for the Texas Tribune quoted the governor saying, “I’m gonna carry this around in case I see any reporters.”
Last year, Texas became one of eight US states that allows students to carry guns into college buildings.
Kelley’s social media accounts contained warnings that might have telegraphed his intentions.
His Facebook page — which has been disabled — contained a quote from Mark Twain about not fearing death. “I do not fear death,” it read. “I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
The church is located in a small, south Texas town about 40 miles east of San Antonio.
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