Half their congregation is dead, and their house of worship is riddled with bullets, but members of a Texas church targeted in a merciless mass shooting will be praying this Sunday.
Parishioners at Sutherland Springs’ First Baptist Church will sing songs, lift prayers and share testimony at a community center next door to the tiny white church where 26 people were killed and 20 more wounded in a Sunday morning massacre.
“Standing in this place is very humbling,” said Vice President Pence, who visited the church site Wednesday.
“Every American is inspired by the heroes of Sutherland Springs, first responders and medical professionals.”
Earlier, Pence met with shooting victims at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, including Zachary Poston, 18, who was shot six times while protecting a little girl.
“We were deeply moved by their faith,” Pence said. “We put our arms around them and reassured them that every American has them under prayers.”
Poston survived because his grandmother, Peggy Warden, 59, threw her arms around him and shielded him with her body.
She was killed.
“He turned to ask her if she was OK and he said she was already gone and slumped over,” said Jimmy Stevens, 58, Warden’s brother. “That’s what saved his life. Because none of the shells hit his vital organs. He got one through the side.”
The service planned for Sunday will be held with help from pastors of nearby churches, a payback of sorts for First Baptist’s history of charitable community service — including cleaning up neighbors’ properties after devastating storms.
“They don’t have a lot of money,” Mike Clements, a pastor at a nearby church, told CNN. “But they are always willing to give.”
Frank Pomeroy, First Baptist’s pastor, is scheduled to speak. Pomeroy was traveling on the day of the shooting and was not at the church. His wife was away as well.
Their daughter Annabelle, 14, died in the massacre, as did a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
Victims of the Texas church shooting
“I think it’s a fantastic idea, said Rebecca Fernandez, 53, who stopped by the church to leave flowers. “I definitely want to be there to support the community. With the crazy things that are happening in this world right now, it’s sad that this is what might bring us together.”
“The more moral support people have, the better off they’ll be,” Sonny Najar said as he took in the makeshift memorial of flowers and stuffed animals. “We need this (service) Sunday, because you know what? A week from now, nobody’s going to be here. The world moves on, but people here will still be grieving.”
Meanwhile, authorities piecing together gunman Devin Kelley’s movements and motives viewed video of the massacre taken inside the church.
Kelley’s carnage, was captured as he walked around and shot congregants in the head.
The 26-year-old was able to buy several weapons, including the Ruger AR-556 rifle he used on children and grandparents — despite his having done a military jail stint on domestic violence charges and getting a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force.
Defense Secretary James Mattis signed a memo Wednesday requesting that the Defense Department’s inspector general look into the handling of Kelley’s criminal records, according to The Hill.