Although all of the deaths that occurred in the massacre at the First Baptist Church are heartbreaking, the slaughter of the innocent children of Sutherland Springs, Texas is especially haunting. The church shooting represented the deadliest mass shooting of children in the United States since Sandy Hook.
Between 12 and 14 children, including an unborn child and 17-month-old child, died in the Texas church shooting, authorities said. (You can see a list of them at the end of this article.) That means that about half of the 26 victims who died were children. It was the deadliest mass shooting in an U.S. house of worship in history, and the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history ever. (the 1991 mass shooting at a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen killed 23 people, ages 30 to 75, and it was worst mass casualty shooting in modern U.S. history at the time.)
At Sutherland Springs, so many children were among the casualties in part because they had just come in from Sunday school and were situated in the back; the tiny wood-frame church held only about 50 people, and the killer, who may have had a domestic motive as his in-laws normally attended the church, essentially had the congregation trapped. The gunman, Devin Kelley, committed suicide after being shot and chased by a heroic neighbor of the First Baptist Church. Twenty other people were wounded (8-year-old Rihanna Garza survived even though a bullet struck her glasses; a small boy, Ryland Ward, 5, was found lying wounded amidst the church pews). One family, the Holcombes, lost 8 members, including multiple children. In terms of overall casualties of all ages, Sutherland Springs ranks as the fifth deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
This isn’t meant to diminish the tragic deaths of the adults; rather, it’s to say that the murder of small children en masse is an unique horror, and a rare one in America (although child firearms deaths are, sadly, not uncommon; one 2017 study found that “nearly 1,300 children die and 5,790 are treated for gunshot wounds each year.”) Recent mass shootings, though, targeted adults because the killers moved in the venues they frequented; the Las Vegas killer killed 58 people ages 20 to 67. The San Bernardino victims ranged in age from 26 to 60. The 49 victims at Pulse Night Club were ages 18 to 50. The 13 victims at Fort Hood were ages 19 to 62.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack targeted corporate America’s heartbeat, obliterating people at work; eight children died out of 2,977 victims that day. They ranged in age from 2 to 11 and were passengers on the airplanes hijacked by the terrorists. One child was among the 12 dead in Aurora, Colorado. Thirty-two young adults and professors died at Virginia Tech. Thirteen teenagers and a coach died at Columbine. Nine adults died in the Charleston church shooting, and six adults were slain in a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
The closest analogies in terms of the number of small child victims: The Oklahoma City bombing and Sandy Hook. Twenty children and six adults died in the Sandy Hook mass shooting. The bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City cost the lives of 15 children in the daycare center out of 168 deaths. The New York Times noted at the time, “The children in the America’s Kids center have become the focus, the epicenter, of the nation’s bereavement over the blast and its rage and loathing at the bomber.”
And so it is here.
Of course, in sheer numbers, nothing has approached the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide/murder, where 909 people died, a third of them children. Two dozen children died in the fiery culmination of the government’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
Those old enough to remember the Lockerbie plane bombing may recall the anonymous “little girl in the red dress” who came to symbolize the horror and innocence lost. Fourteen youngsters ages 16 down to infants died in that 1988 attack from multiple countries.
Children also died in the San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre of 1984; five children under age 11 perished among the 21 victims. The U.S. Cavalry massacred 150 Native Americans at Wounded Knee in 1890, nearly half women and children, although the number might be higher.
Foreign terrorist attacks led to child deaths; 22 people died in the Ariana Grande concert attack in England, but most of the victims were adults or teenagers. An 8-year-old girl perished in that attack. Ten children were among the dead in the Nice, France terrorist attack.
Here are the child fatalities of Sutherland Springs who have been identified so far:
Annabelle Pomeroy, 14
Haley Krueger, 16
Noah Holcombe, 17 months
Megan Hill, 8
Megan Hill died Sunday inside First Baptist Church. This picture of her was taken the day before at a 4H Food Challenge. pic.twitter.com/X61K69NcUT
— Robert Price (@RobertPriceTV) November 7, 2017
Emily Hill, 11
Greg Hill, 13
Brooke Ward, 5
Emily Garza, 7
Unborn Holcombe Child
See a full list of victims here.