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. But a law enforcement official who was briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press that more than 20 people were killed and between 10 and 15 others were wounded, though the official stressed that the investigation was in its early stages and the figures could change.
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, 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.”
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.
“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.”
Story by The Associated Press