At least 26 people were shot and killed Sunday when a gunman opened fire at a Baptist church in a small town near San Antonio, Texas.
The attack is the largest mass shooting in Texas, and one of the deadliest shootings in modern American history.
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told local media that the shooter, identified by another law enforcement source as Devin P. Kelley, 26, a resident of Comal County, Texas, was killed.
“The details of this horrific act are still under investigation,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement before he headed to join local, state and federal officials at the scene. “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.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said the dead included a pregnant woman and children, based on the congressman’s briefing with local law enforcement authorities.
Both Cuellar and a law enforcement source identified Kelley as the gunman.
“He went there, he walked in, started shooting people and then took off” in a vehicle to adjacent Guadalupe County, Cuellar said through his spokesman, Rafael Benavides.
The dead included the daughter of the church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy, who was in Oklahoma when the shooting happened. Annabelle Renee Pomeroy was “was one very beautiful, special child,” Pomeroy said, adding that the dead were all close friends of his.
At least 10 victims, including four children, were being treated at the University Health System in nearby San Antonio, the hospital said in a tweet.
Four members of one family were injured. Joann Ward and her three children were hurt, according to a family friend, Gracie Crews, of nearby Stockfield, Texas, who was at the hospital with the family.
Ward was unconscious when officials responded to the scene, and two of the children had to be flown by helicopter to a local hospital, Crews said in a telephone interview. Crews estimated the children were between the ages of 5 and 8, and said that Saturday was Ward and her husband’s anniversary.
“We got a call once we heard everything that went down. We rushed to the hospital immediately,” Crews said.
Other community members also hurried to help as news of the shooting spread by telephone, social media, “everything,” she said. “The community really rushed out.”
Eight patients with gunshot wounds were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville, according to spokeswoman Megan Posey. Four of the eight patients, including one in critical condition, were subsequently transferred to University Hospital, a major trauma center in San Antonio. Three were discharged and one remained in stable condition.
Sutherland Springs is about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio.
“It’s a really sad deal, man. I can’t describe it,” Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr. said
in a phone call from outside the church.
He said the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were already on the scene assisting investigators. “We’ve got them all here.”
Families gathered outside the church and held hands as they cried and waited for news about the injured and the dead.
“May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas,” tweeted President Donald Trump, who was in Asia this weekend. “The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump had been briefed several times and was continuing to receive regular updates on the shooting. He spoke with Abbott earlier in the day, she said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of the friends and families affected. May God comfort them all in this time of tragedy.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan called the reports of the shooting “devastating.”
“The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now,” he said in a tweet.
The small church located in a sparsely populated area of a town of fewer than 700 residents was known for its close sense of community.
The church posted its Sunday services regularly on YouTube, and last Sunday’s was built around a chapter from the Book of Proverbs and the theme, “You don’t need training wheels, you need Christ!”
The service from last week consisted of songs backed by an electric guitar and bass, and a long sermon by Pastor Pomeroy. As the service began, congregants milled about, hugging one another and shaking hands. They were all white, a mix of ages, and it appeared clear they were close. As they greeted one another, the three-person band sang: “God is good, all the time, through the darkest night his light will shine. … If you’re walking through the valley, and there are shadows all around, do not fear, He will guide you, He will keep you safe and sound … ”