Texas church shooting not racially or religiously motivated, officials say, noting ‘domestic situation’
ABCNews.com(SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas) — The mass shooting at a rural Texas church Sunday that killed 26 people was neither racially nor religiously motivated, authorities said at a news conference this morning, noting there was a “domestic situation” within the suspect’s family.
The Sunday rampage at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, about 40 miles southeast of San Antonio, also left 20 people injured and sent survivors fleeing for their lives.
The ages of the deceased range from 18 months to 77 years old, authorities said this morning. Some parents had covered their children with their bodies, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said.
When Tackitt arrived at the church, he added, first responders were doing triage and almost everyone was covered in blood.
The alleged shooter, a 26-year-old man, is also dead.
While authorities have not released a specific motive, they said this morning the suspect’s mother-in-law has attended the church and has received threatening texts from her son-in-law.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier today on “Good Morning America” that he doesn’t think the shooting “was just a random act of violence.”
Tragedy at church
The attack began at about 11:20 a.m. Sunday, after a suspect was seen at a 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 going inside the church and shooting more, authorities said.
Tackitt said the gunman entered from the back of the church, fired all the way to the front of the church, and then fired on his way back out of the church. He had time to reload several times, Tackitt said.
The church has two entrances, the sheriff said.
“As he exited the church, a local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect,” Freeman Martin of the Texas Department of Public Safety said. “The suspect dropped his rifle — which was a Rueger AR assault-type rifle — and fled from the church.”
Two good Samaritans jumped into a truck and pursued the suspect in a high-speed car chase, authorities said.
The suspect crashed and was later found dead in his vehicle in Guadalupe County, according to authorities. Evidence shows the suspect may have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said this morning.
Multiple weapons were found in the vehicle, authorities said, adding that the suspect had tactical-type gear and was wearing a ballistic vest.
‘He just kept going, kept going’
Kevin Jordan, who lives across the street from the church, told ABC News he saw the suspect “shooting as he’s walking towards the church.”
“He was wearing either body armor or a vest and a mask,” Jordan said Sunday, “and I couldn’t see his face or anything, and I saw him shooting and he just kept going, kept going.
“When I was trying to run back inside my house … he saw me, and he took a shot off in my direction, and it went through the front window of my house. And my two-year-old son … he was standing in the window, two feet from where it hit,” Jordan said. “It almost hit him.
“I grabbed my son and grabbed my wife, and we barricaded ourselves in the bathroom and I called 911,” Jordan added.
Jordan continued to hear shots, including some that didn’t sound like the gunman’s, so he peaked out the window and saw his friend was there with his own gun, confronting the suspect, he said.
There’s no evidence that any church members were armed, Tackitt said.
14-year-old pastor’s daughter among the dead
Annabelle Renee Pomeroy, 14, was one of the individuals slain at the house of worship, 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 during the shooting, a rare weekend that he wasn’t at the church.
The other victims are all close friends of his, he said.
Abbott called the shooting the largest mass shooting in state history.
As of Monday morning, authorities said of the 20 wounded, 10 are in critical condition, four are in serious condition and six are in stable condition or have been released.
A portrait of the shooter emerges
The deceased shooter was identified as Devin Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, Texas, which is about 35 miles from Sutherland Springs.
Kelley served in the Air Force from 2010 until 2014 and worked in the logistics readiness department at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
He was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assault on his spouse and on their child. He received a bad conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction of his military status.
He was able to purchase an assault rifle despite a law that restricts firearms from people convicted of domestic violence. Under U.S. law, a person who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence is prohibited from possessing firearms, but it is unclear whether there were exceptions in this case that may have allowed the purchase to go forward.
Kelley purchased the Ruger model AR-556 rifle used in the shooting at a San Antonio sporting goods store in April 2016, according to a law enforcement official.
Trump: ‘Mental health is your problem here’
President Donald Trump said mental health, not guns, is to blame for the massacre, calling the assailant a “very deranged individual.”
“Mental health is your problem here,” Trump said of the shooting during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “This was a very, based on preliminary reports, a very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns situation.”
The president went on to say it’s a “little bit soon” to talk about gun policies after the tragic event, and suggested that the death toll could have been higher had it not been for the other armed person who, authorities said, confronted the suspect after he exited the church.
“Fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction otherwise … it would have been much worse,” the president said. “This is a mental health problem at the highest level.”
A community in shock
Paul Buford, a pastor at another church in Sutherland Springs, told ABC affiliate KSAT-TV in San Antonio Sunday 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.
Hours after the shooting, the close-knit town came together at a candlelight vigil.
“The people of this church are wonderful people,” Mike Gonzales, who lives nearby, told KSAT. “We’re coming together to pray for them and show the world that now, in the midst of darkness, there is light.”
Gov. Abbott said at Sunday afternoon’s news conference, “This will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain.”
“We ask for God’s comfort, for God’s guidance and for God’s healing for all those who are suffering,” he said. “As governor I ask for every mom and dad at home tonight, that you put your arm around your kid and give your kid a big hug and let them know how much you love them knowing that we support each other.”
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. Roof was sentenced to death this January.
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.
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