A madman with an assault rifle gunned down more than two dozen members of a small Texas church, including the pastor’s teenage daughter, during Sunday morning worship services in one of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation’s history.
The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 in the latest example of all-too-familiar national carnage — just over a month after a gunman rained death on 58 people from a hotel window in Las Vegas.
Devin Kelley, 26, was identified as the shooter hours after the gunman burst into a Sutherland Springs church, about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio, and opened fire, killing at least 26 and wounding 20 more. The young white man, who federal officials said had no known terrorist links, was later found shot to death.
The Rev. Frank Pomeroy, pastor of the First Baptist Church, said his youngest daughter, Annabelle, 14, was among the victims of the massacre. Annabelle “was one very beautiful, special child,” Pomeroy told ABC News. He was traveling in Oklahoma when the deadly gunshots rang out at the small, white house of worship.
“My husband and I were ironically out of town in two different states,” Sherri Pomeroy told CBS News via text message. She added, “Neither of us have made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the Charlotte (N.C.) airport trying to get home as soon as I can.”
It was just a week earlier that Pomeroy delivered a sermon encouraging parishioners to “lean on the Lord” even in the midst of senseless chaos.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely or lean on your own understanding,” Pomeroy said at the time. “You see God’s understanding is far greater and there may be things that are taking place that you don’t understand, but you still need to do what God’s calling you to do.”
Survivors and loved ones were clinging to those prescient words in the midst of unspeakable horror.
The suspect, dressed all in black, was seen at a Valero gas station across the street from the church in Sutherland Springs about 11:20 a.m. on Sunday, said Regional Public Safety Director Freeman Marcus.
The suspect then crossed the street, got out of his vehicle and began firing at the church. He then moved to the right side of the church and continued to fire.
Marcus said a resident grabbed a rifle and confronted the church shooter, who wore tactical gear and a bulletproof vest, just as the gunman was leaving.
The gunman dropped his weapon and sped off in his vehicle, with the armed civilian in pursuit. A short time later, law enforcement found the vehicle crashed near the county line, with the suspect dead inside. They found other weapons in the vehicle.
“At this time we don’t know if it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by the local resident,” Marcus said.
Deadly shooting at Texas church
Officials said there was no immediate motive for the mass shooting. Three of the five highest death tolls from gun rampages in U.S. history have now occurred in the last 17 months — including the Texas and Las Vegas shootings and the Orlando club massacre in June 2016 that left 49 dead.
The shooting also occurred on the eighth anniversary of the rampage at a military base in Fort Hood, Tex., that left 13 dead.
Unsuspecting parishioners, singing hymns and saying prayers, fled the church when the shots rang out, desperately searching for anything that could give them cover.
“We heard several shots and we all started running inside the store,” a witness at the gas station across the street told ABC News.
“It lasted about 15 seconds,” she said. “I yelled, ‘Get down! Get inside!’ and we all went into hiding.”
The deceased included 23 who were killed inside the church, two killed outside the church and one more victim who died at a local hospital.
Cops flooded the area, forming a perimeter around the church. FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were on the scene.
Records described the shooter as a resident of New Braunfels, Tex., which is about 35 miles from Sutherland Springs, a small town of about 350 residents.
A military spokeswoman said Kelley served in the Air Force, and received a bad conduct discharge in 2012 after he was court-martialed on charges that he assaulted his wife and child.
Kelley’s LinkedIn page said he served for a month as a teacher’s aide for a Vacation Bible School in Kingsville, Tex., about 140 miles south of Sutherland Springs.
The suspect’s Facebook profile showed a picture of an AR-15–style gun. One report said Kelley purchased the Ruger AR-556 rifle in April 2016 in San Antonio.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted his condolences to everyone affected by the tragedy.
“Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act,” Abbott said in a statement. “Our thanks to law enforcement for their response.”
President Trump acknowledged the shooting during his trip to Asia.
“This act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of sacred worship,” Trump said in Tokyo.
“We cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel, and we cannot begin to imagine the suffering of those who lost the ones they love. But in dark times — and these are — such as these, Americans do what they do best, we pull together.”
Gov. Cuomo said such killings have become “unforgivably common in our society.
“We cannot accept mass shootings as part of who we are — this can and must stop.”
Officials said the attack was the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history and largest mass shooting ever in Texas.
It also wasn’t the only church shooting Sunday — a man in Fresno, Calif., opened fire at St. Alphonsus Church following a morning service. The shooter’s estranged wife was killed and a man she was with was injured, police told ABC 30.
Mourners filling the church’s parking lot during an evening vigil said the shooting wounded the whole community.
“When children are involved, it hits closer to home,” said Tomie Barker, 60. “And at a church, you think you’re safe.”
Mario Cavazos, 53, who heard the shots as he was driving to his auto body shop nearby, said he had friends in the church.
“We grew up together. We work together. Real good friends of ours,” Cavazos said.
“There’s just hatred all over the place. People, you know, everybody’s got problems and they stick it on somebody else. It’s a cruel world.”