Gunman opens fire in Texas church; more than 20 dead

The shooter is dead, authorities confirmed

Carrie Matula embraces a woman after a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Matula said she heard the shooting from the gas station where she works a block away. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — A man opened fire inside of a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing more than 20 people and wounding at least 10 others before being killed or killing himself, authorities said.

The exact number of victims in the attack at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs wasn’t immediately known. A top Texas public safety officer says that 23 of the people found dead in a shooting at a Baptist church were found inside the building, two others were outside and one person was transported but died later.

Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, says the ages of those killed ranged from 5 to 72.

Two officials have identified the suspect in a mass shooting at a Texas church as Devin Kelley.

The officials – one a U.S. official and the other in law enforcement – spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation, which they were briefed on.

An Air Force official says the man identified by officials to The Associated Press as the gunman in the mass shooting at a Texas church was court-martialed in 2012 and discharged two years later.

Spokeswoman Ann Stefanek says Kelley was court-martialed on one count of assault on his spouse and another count of assault on their child. He received a bad conduct discharge, 12 months’ confinement and a reduction in rank.

Stefanek also says Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge.

Authorities say 26 people were killed and about 20 others wounded in the attack in Sutherland Springs.

The U.S. official says Kelley lived in a suburb of San Antonio and that he doesn’t appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. The official says investigators are looking at social media posts Kelley may have made in the days before Sunday’s attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

Authorities say Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and opened fire, killing more than 20 people and wounding at least 10 others.

The official said the gunman fled in a vehicle after the attack and was killed, either by a self-inflicted wound or during a confrontation with police. The official was not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small community 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack to offer assistance, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI’s evidence collection team.

Among those killed was the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor and his wife. Sherri Pomeroy said in a text message to the AP that she and her husband were out of town when the attack occurred, but they lost their daughter “and many friends.” She said she and her husband, Frank Pomeroy, were trying to get home. The text was in response to an interview request sent to a phone number linked in online records to her husband, pastor Frank Pomeroy.

The wounded were taken to hospitals. Video on KSAT television showed first responders taking a stretcher from the church to a waiting AirLife helicopter. Some victims were taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center, the station said.

Megan Posey, a spokeswoman for Connally Memorial Medical Center, which is in Floresville and about 10 miles from the church, said “multiple” victims were being treated for gunshot wounds. She declined to give a specific number but said it was less than a dozen.

A woman who lives in Floresville and was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone in the sparsely populated county.

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

President Donald Trump tweeted from Japan, where is his on an Asian trip, that he was monitoring the situation following the shooting. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the shooting an “evil act,” and promised “more details” from the state’s Department of Public Safety soon.

 

Sutherland Springs is in a rural corner of South Texas where communities are small and tight-knit. The area is known for its annual peanut festival in nearby Floresville, which was most recently held last month.

“We’re shocked. Shocked and dismayed,” said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs. “It’s especially shocking when it’s such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving.”

Zaffirini said she had called several county and local officials but not been able to get through and didn’t have any firm details.

The church is a white, wood-framed building with a double-door at the entrance and a Texas flag on a pole at the front area, according to its website, which was down shortly after the shooting. The website says the church schedule was for a fellowship breakfast on Sunday mornings, followed by Sunday School. A morning worship service was scheduled for 11 a.m. The first news reports of the shooting were between noon and 12:30 p.m.

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In the most recent service, posted Oct. 29, Pastor Frank Pomeroy began by speaking in front of a stage with two guitarists and a singer. A few children can be seen moving around and climbing onto the pews. Most people, including Pomeroy, were in jeans.

Pomeroy parked a motorcycle in front of his lectern and used it as a metaphor in his sermon for having faith in forces that can’t be seen, whether it was gravity or God.

“I don’t look at the moment, I look at where I’m going and look at what’s out there ahead of me,” Pomeroy said. “I’m choosing to trust in the centripetal forces and the things of God he’s put around me.”

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley released a statement on the shooting.

“I am heartbroken by the horrific Sutherland Springs shooting. I am praying for the victims. We must take action to stop these tragedies.”

___

Associated Press writers Sadie Gurman in Washington, Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Diana Heidgerd in Dallas contributed to this report. KOIN 6 News contributed to this report.