A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding about 20 in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.
Authorities didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials — one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.
The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.
An Air Force spokeswoman said Sunday night that Devin P. Kelley received a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force for allegedly assaulting his spouse and child, and was sentenced to 12 months' confinement after a 2012 court-martial. Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the First Baptist Church around 11:20 A.M.
The gunman crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 A.M. service was scheduled. As he left, the shooter was confronted by an armed resident who "grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect," Martin said. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line.
Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive. Martin said 23 of the dead were found in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.
U.S. President Donald Trump responded to the shooting from Tokyo, Japan, on the second day of a 12-day trip to Asia, saying "you cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel" for the victims.
"Americans do what we do best, we pull together," Trump said at the start of a meeting with business leaders. "We stand strong, oh so strong." He added federal authorities would help Texas in the aftermath of the shooting and that all of America was praying to God.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "horrified" by the attack, which he described as "savagery."
"Our hearts are with the victims, their families and the American people," Netanyahu tweeted.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the shooting an "evil act," and promised "more details" from the state's Department of Public Safety soon.
Federal law enforcement swarmed the small community 48 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of San Antonio after the attack to offer assistance, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI's evidence collection team.
Residents of the area next to the church reported hearing 20 gunshots, as well as the shooter reloading his weapon several times. They added that, on most Sundays, approximately 50 people attend prayer services at the church.
Among those killed was the 14-year-old daughter of the church's pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri. Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP that she and her husband were out of town in two different states when the attack occurred.
"We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us have made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can."
Frank Pomeroy described his daughter, Annabelle Renee Pomeroy, as “one very beautiful, special child” to ABC News, Yahoo News reported.
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 16 kilometers (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.
‘Shocked and dismayed’
Sutherland Springs is in a rural area where communities are small and tight-knit. The area is known for its annual peanut festival in Floresville, which was most recently held last month.
Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who 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 Berlanga. "Everybody's going to be affected and everybody knows someone who's affected," she said.
Regina Rodriguez arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting and walked up to the police barricade. She hugged a person she was with. She had been at an amusement park with her children when she heard of the shooting.
She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn't been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.
Nick Uhlig, 34, is a church member who didn't go Sunday morning because he was out late Saturday night. He said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, is among the dead. He said he hadn't heard specific news about the other.
"We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday," he said. "This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men's Bible study, vacation Bible school."
"Somebody went in and started shooting," he said, shaking his head and taking a long drag of his cigarette.
"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. 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 October 29, Frank 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 be 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."
The massacre is the latest in a rash of mass shootings that have plagued the United States in recent years, stirring a national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to the trend.It comes just weeks after a sniper killed 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.