A mother-of-four and her two young daughters, a 14-year pastor’s daughter, Sunday’s stand-in preacher, his wife, their eight-months-pregnant daughter-in-law and three of her five children are among the 26 victims shot dead in the Texas church massacre.
Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of suburban San Antonio, opened fire on parishioners during Mass at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, killing dozens and injuring at least 20.
The first victim to be identified was Annabelle Pomeroy, whose father – First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy – had been out of town during the attack. The grieving dad told ABC he’s lost ‘one beautiful girl, and a ‘special child.’
Bryan Holcombe had been standing in for Frank Pomeroy when Kelley opened fire. Witnesses say he was the first victim to be struck by the shooter’s gunfire.
‘Bryan was filling in,’ the witness, who did not want to be named, told DailyMail.com. ‘He was walking up to the pulpit when he was shot in the back.
‘He was an awesome Christian,’ they added.
He was killed, alongside his wife of 25 years, Sunday school teacher Karla Holcombe, as well as their eight-months-pregnant pregnant daughter-in-law Crystal, a mom-of-five, local residents reported. Three of Crystal’s five children were also killed.
‘The family is just devastated,’ the witness added.
Bryan and Karla ran a canvas repair shop before retiring and had attended the church for 25 years.
‘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,’ their son Scott Holcombe told the Herald-Tribune.
Mother-of-four Joann Ward and three of her children were also shot. Family have since told the Dallas News that Joann and two of her daughters, six-year-old Brooke and eight-year-old Emily have died.
Ward’s six-year-old stepson Ryland, who was shot four times, is still in hospital after undergoing emergency surgery. The mom’s eldest daughter Rihanna, nine, had the glasses shot off her face but escaped injury by hiding under a pew as shots rang out.
The victims ranged in age from five to 72, with two killed outside the church, 23 killed inside, and one person who died after medical transport, officials said.
The gunman, Kelley, also died after he was confronted and pursued by an armed hero citizen.
And 34-year-old Amanda Mosel told MySA that her 13-year-old goddaughter was killed during the shooting. She said she was sad she skipped church this morning, but she normally attends that sermon. ‘It’s a small, tight-knit church,’ she said.
Many of the dead remained inside the small rural church Sunday evening, as crime scene investigators worked to reconstruct the scene.
Authorities declined to officially name any of the deceased victims on Sunday evening, as they worked to secure the crime scene and notify victims’ families.
‘We don’t know names of any of the victims at this time because we’re still trying to work the crime scene,’ said Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt.
Residents of the community gathered for an emotional candlelight vigil on Sunday night as the names of the victims began to emerge.
‘I’ve known her since she was about eight years old,’ resident Gloria Rodriguez Ximenez told CNN of the 14-year-old pastor’s daughter who died.
‘There’s no words to describe how wonderful people they are – Christian. It’s just a small Christian town, everybody knows each other, everybody supports each other,’ she said.
Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr Told CNN that the death toll is expected to climb.
‘My heart is broken,’ Gamez said. ‘We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, what can happen.’
A woman wrote on Facebook that she saw the man flee the scene in his vehicle before crashing it not far from her daughter’s house. She said he then ran on foot and was pursued by police.
The shooter was killed after the chase into Guadalupe County, according Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Robert Murphy.
But it’s still unclear if the gunman shot himself or was taken down by the armed citizen he exchanged fire with.
Dana Fletcher, who owns a store in Sutherland Springs, told CNN: ‘It’s just awful…there were emergency responders everywhere.’
Neighbors in the area said they may have heard the shooter reload multiple times. Another witness at the scene said a two-year-old was also shot in the attack.
Sutherland Springs is a rural community in Wilson County, Texas, about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio that’s made up of about 400 people. Some residents fear that the gunman is someone they know because their community is so small.
Texas Congressman Vicente Gonzalez told MSNBC that officials ‘won’t have final numbers until probably a few more hours’.
He added that ‘apparently the shooter was not from the area, he was from outside of that area’.
Gonzalez said that based on what he knew, 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’.
Carrie Matula, who works at a gas station near the church, told MSNBC that she heard ‘semiautomatic gunfire’ and looked to see what was going on.
‘I never thought it would happen here,’ Matula said. ‘This is something that happens in a big city. I would never have thought this would have taken place here. It’s just too tight a community. It doesn’t make sense.’
President Donald Trump Tweeted his condolences to the Sutherland Springs community, and said he will monitor things from afar during his trip in Japan.
‘God bless the people of Sutherland Springs, TX. Our country’s hearts are breaking for the victims & their families. We love & are with you!’ Ivanka Trump tweeted after learning of the shooting.
Chelsea Clinton also shared her condolences on Twitter on Sunday evening, writing that nobody should have to worry about their loved ones when they are in ‘house of worship, a nightclub, a school or at a concert,’ referencing other mass shootings in the country such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Sandy Hook.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a statement following the shooting.
‘While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation, 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.
Texas Sen Ted Cruz tweeted: ‘Keeping all harmed in Sutherland Springs in our prayers and grateful for our brave first responders on the scene.’
Photos show families tearfully praying outside their community building as they wait to see if their family and friends are safe.
There were at least six helicopters called in to transport victims to the hospital.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Hannah Parry, Keith Griffith, Abigail Miller and Valerie Edwards