Donald Trump

26 Gunned Down at Small-Town Church in Texas' Worst Mass Shooting

The gunman was found dead inside his getaway vehicle after an armed citizen and another man pursued him, an official said. It is unclear if the suspect died from a self-inflected gunshot wound or he was shot by the resident.

What to Know

  • The 26 people killed were aged between 5 and 72 years old.
  • At least 20 people who were wounded are recovering in hospitals around San Antonio, Texas.
  • The suspected gunman, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelly, died of a gunshot wound.

A man dressed in all black and wearing a "ballistic vest" fired a Ruger semi-automatic rifle at a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding about 20 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history. Victims were churchgoers as young as five and as old as 72.

The gunman was officially identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of neighboring Comal County, on Monday, confirming what law enforcement sources had reported the day before. Kelley died in the shooting. Law enforcement officials were working to search his home, with agents from the FBI and the ATF among those on the scene Sunday, officials told NBC News. 

Twenty-three people were found dead inside the church, two were found outside and one victim died at the hospital, DPS Regional Director Freeman Martin said.

There were 12 to 14 children's bodies found inside the church, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told NBC News Monday.

Kelley's wife, who may have been estranged or divorced from him, had attended the church in the past, along with her parents, Tackitt said. They are not locals of Sutherland Springs.

The gunman is believed to have fired hundreds of rounds, according to Tackitt.

The wounded were taken to area hospitals. Megan Posey, a spokeswoman for Connally Memorial Medical Center, which is in Floresville and about 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. Eight people were taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center, the hospital said.

"There are so many families who've lost family members, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, Gov. Greg Abbott said. "The tragedy of course is worsened by the fact that it occurred in a church, a place of worship, where these people were innocently gunned down. We mourn their loss, but we support their family members."

Sutherland Springs, a community of about 400 people, is about 20 miles southeast of San Antonio.  

Martin said the suspect crossed the street from a Valero gas station, fired at the church and entered the church, firing from a Ruger AR rifle. He dropped his rifle and fled when confronted by an armed resident.

The suspect was found dead inside his getaway vehicle after the armed resident and another citizen pursued him, Martin continued. It is unclear if the suspect died from a self-inflected gunshot wound or he was shot by the resident. 

The driver of the vehicle that chased the suspect said he was acting on instinct to try to prevent the suspect from escaping. 

Johnnie Langendorff said in an interview with KSAT that he was driving past the church Sunday as the shooting happened and saw the gunman exchanging fire with a member of the community, who then got into Langendorff's truck. They took off at high speed in pursuit of the gunman on a nearby highway as police were going in the opposite direction toward the church. 

Langendorff said the gunman lost control of his vehicle and crashed. He said his passenger walked up to the suspect's vehicle with his gun drawn and the suspect did not move. The person stood guard over the gunman until police arrived 5 to 7 minutes later. 

"I was strictly just acting on what's the right thing to do," Langendorff said. 

Federal officials say Kelley's motive is unclear but there was no obvious sign of a connection to terrorism. 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. District Attorney Audrey Louis said at a briefing Sunday afternoon that there is no continuing threat. 

Frank Pomeroy, pastor of the First Baptist Church, and his wife Sherri were both out of town at the time of the shooting, Sherri Pomeroy told NBC News, but she said their 14-year-old daughter and "many friends" are among the dead. Neither of them have made it back to the town, she told NBC News. 

Carrie Matula, who was at a gas station about 50 yards away from the church, told MSNBC that she heard what sounded like "semi-automatic" gunfire erupt at about 11:30 a.m. 

"It was rapid fire," Matula said. "It was just boom, boom, boom."

Sandy Ward, a grandmother of some of victims, told MSNBC that her grandson has been in surgery for hours and that he was shot four times. "We just found out that his sister is not going to make it," she said. 

President Donald Trump addressed the shooting while on a trip in Japan. Trump said that in dark times "such as these, Americans do what they do best: we pull together, we join hands, we lock arms and through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong, oh so strong." 

"My administration will provide its full support to the great state of Texas and all local authorities investigating this horrible crime," Trump continued. 

The president added that the gunman was "deranged," saying that the shooting is a "mental health problem."

Trump also ordered that the American flag be flown at half-staff at the White House and other government buildings until sunset on Thursday. 

Kelley previously served in the Air Force until he was discharged for bad conduct in 2014, Air Force Spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told NBC News. He was court-martialed in 2012 for two counts of assault on his spouse and assault on their child, Stefanek said. 

It is not immediately clear whether it was legal for Kelley to own weapons on a bad conduct discharge. A sporting goods retailer said Sunday night that Kelley purchased a firearm from one of its San Antonio locations in 2016 but did not specify what type of gun.

The mass shooting comes just 35 days after a gunman killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. It's also the 8th anniversary of the Fort Hood shooting, where a U.S. Army major killed 13 people and injured more 30 others in a mass shooting.

A woman who lives about 10 minutes away from Sutherland Springs in Floresville was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups. She said everyone knows everyone in the sparsely populated county.

"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.

CORRECTION (Nov. 6, 2017, 12:51 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this story misspelled Sheriff Joe Tackitt's name.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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