26 dead, 20 injured in massacre at rural Texas church in worst mass shooting in state’s history

(ABC News/WTNH) –At least 26 people were killed and 20 others injured when a gunman stormed a church in rural Texas with a rifle this morning, said Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Victims’ ages range from five to 72, authorities said.

The alleged shooter, a 26-year-old man, is also dead following the massacre in Sutherland Springs, about 40 miles southeast of San Antonio, bringing the total number of fatalities to 27, authorities said.

Here’s what we know about the shooting:

Tragedy at church

The attack began at about 11:20 a.m., after a suspect was seen at a Valero gas station in Sutherland Springs, dressed in all black, the Department of Public Safety said. The suspect crossed the street to the church, got out of his vehicle and began firing at the church, authorities said.

The suspect then moved to the right side of the church and continued to fire, before entering the church and shooting more, authorities said.

As the suspect exited the church, a local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged the suspect, after which he dropped his assault-type rifle and fled, authorities said.

A citizen pursued the suspect, authorities said.

The suspect, who fled in a car, crashed and was later found dead in his vehicle in Guadalupe County, according to the sheriff and the Department of Public Safety. It’s unclear whether he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or whether he was shot by another person, officials said at a news conference this afternoon at Stockdale City Hall, near the church.

Multiple weapons were found in the vehicle, authorities said, adding that the suspect had tactical-type gear and was wearing a ballistic vest.

The threat is believed to be over, Wilson County District Attorney Audrey Gossett said.

Authorities did not discuss a motive at this afternoon’s news conference.

14-year-old girl was among the victims, father says

Among those killed at the First Baptist Church was a 14-year-old girl named Annabelle Renee Pomeroy, according to her father, Frank Pomeroy, who is a pastor at the church.

Annabelle “was one very beautiful, special child,” Pomeroy told ABC News by phone.

Pomeroy said he was in Oklahoma this morning — a rare weekend that he wasn’t at the church.

The other victims are all close friends of his, he said.

Last Sunday, Pomeroy delivered a sermon at the church, encouraging parishioners to “lean on the Lord,” even when circumstances don’t make sense.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely, or lean, on your own understanding,” he said. “You see God’s understanding is far greater and there may be things that are taking place that you don’t understand but you still need to do what God’s calling you to do.”

‘We heard several shots and we all started running’

A woman who said she works at a gas station across the street from the church told ABC News she heard rapid gunfire around 11:15 a.m.

Congregants fled the church and ran to the station cowering for cover, she said.

“We heard several shots and we all started running inside the store,” said the woman, who said she is 49 but declined to give her name.

“It lasted about 15 seconds,” she said. “I yelled, ‘Get down, get inside,’ and we all went into hiding.”

Within minutes of the gunfire, emergency personnel arrived at the scene, she said.

A church turns into a crime scene

Police formed a perimeter around the First Baptist Church and flooded its grounds with emergency and police vehicles, according to ABC San Antonio affiliate KSAT-TV. Agents from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have responded to the scene.

A small group of people were seen clustered together outside the small, white church, holding hands and attempting to pray, a KSAT-TV reporter said.

Paul Buford, a pastor at another church in Sutherland Springs, told KSAT-TV that his congregation was in the middle of their service at River Oaks Church when they started getting calls about the shooting.

Members of his church who are first responders rushed out while the rest of the congregation immediately started praying.

A portrait of the shooter emerges

The shooter was identified as Devin Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, Texas, which is about 35 miles from Sutherland Springs, federal and state law enforcement sources told ABC News.

The investigation into his background is unfolding. The suspect’s Facebook profile appeared to show a picture of an AR-15–style gun. A LinkedIn account that is believed to be associated with the shooter suggested that he had a military background.

Trump and Texas officials react

President Donald Trump, who is in Japan, began his remarks to business leaders in Tokyo by addressing the shooting as “an act of evil” in a “place of sacred worship.”

“Together we join hands we lock arms and through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong,” Trump said.

He tweeted earlier, “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas.”

Trump has been briefed “several times” and is continuing to receive regular updates, said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Gov. Abbott said in a statement, “Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act. I want to thank law enforcement for their response and ask that all Texans pray for the Sutherland Springs community during this time of mourning and loss.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement, “The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Sutherland Springs as tragic reports come out of First Baptist Church.”

“Please join Angela and me as we pray for those impacted by this horrific shooting,” Paxton said.

3 church shootings in 3 years

The massacre in Texas is at least the third deadly shooting at a U.S. church in the past three years.

In June 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black churchgoers during a Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In Jan. 2017, Roof was sentenced to death.

In September 2017, a gunman allegedly stormed the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, fatally shooting a woman in the parking lot before entering the church sanctuary, shooting and wounding six people.

 

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal sent out a series of tweets on the incident:

Fellow Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy released a statement, saying:

The paralysis you feel right now – the impotent helplessness that washes over you as news of another mass slaughter scrolls across the television screen – isn’t real. It’s a fiction created and methodically cultivated by the gun lobby, designed to assure that no laws are passed to make America safer, because those laws would cut into their profits. My heart sunk to the pit of my stomach, once again, when I heard of today’s shooting in Texas. My heart dropped further when I thought about the growing macabre club of families in Las Vegas and Orlando and Charleston and Newtown, who have to relive their own day of horror every time another mass killing occurs.

“None of this is inevitable. I know this because no other country endures this pace of mass carnage like America. It is uniquely and tragically American. As long as our nation chooses to flood the county with dangerous weapons and consciously let those weapons fall into the hands of dangerous people, these killings will not abate.

“As my colleagues go to sleep tonight, they need to think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly onto the floors of American churches, elementary schools, movie theaters, and city streets. Ask yourself – how can you claim that you respect human life while choosing fealty to weapons-makers over support for measures favored by the vast majority of your constituents.

“My heart breaks for Sutherland Springs. Just like it still does for Las Vegas. And Orlando. And Charleston. And Aurora. And Blacksburg. And Newtown. Just like it does every night for Chicago. And New Orleans. And Baltimore. And Bridgeport. The terrifying fact is that no one is safe so long as Congress chooses to do absolutely nothing in the face of this epidemic. The time is now for Congress to shed its cowardly cover and do something.”

He followed this up with a tweet, saying:

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy stated:

This morning a church community in Texas gathered to pray in peace and now we pray for the deceased, the injured, and their friends and families. Sutherland Springs now joins a club which no one wishes to join, a club made up of cities and towns ravaged by senseless gun violence-communities such as Littleton, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Orlando, Las Vegas, Newtown, and so many others. For the sake of all communities across the country, this madness of mass shootings needs to end once and for all. Congress needs to finally take up and pass commonsense gun control measures so that tragedies like this one never happen again. Connecticut will make any resources and expertise that we can provide available to those affected by this latest act of mass violence.”