A 33-year-old Texas man was misidentified as the gunman who opened fire at a Sutherland Springs church, killing at least 26 people and wounding several others, his family says. Chris Ward was actually sleeping at the time of the shooting, and his wife, two daughters and son were all shot inside the church.
Ward’s family friend, Gracie Crews, told the Los Angeles Times that Ward’s wife and three children are among the victims of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.
Chris’ wife, Joann Ward, 30, his daughter, Brooke Ward, 5, and stepdaughter, Emily Garza 7, all died in the shooting. His son, Ryland, 5, is fighting for his life, and his stepdaughter, Rhianna, barely survived the shooting, the Ward family told the Dallas Morning News. Chris Ward was at home sleeping at the time of the shooting because he works on the night shift, his brother told the newspaper. Michael Ward rushed to wake Chris up and took him to the hospital. Meanwhile, on social media, people were claiming Chris Ward was the mass murderer who killed his family and many others.
This misidentification stemmed from an on-air report from CBS News. A woman who works at a store near the church said she had heard the gunman was Chris Ward. The woman, identified only as Carrie, said she heard from neighbors that Ward had shot his whole family before going to the church. Ward’s family has disputed this and it does not match with what police have learned about the shooter.
Chris Ward’s family member, Edith Sommer, identified as his aunt, took to Facebook to dispel the rumors.
“FYI: Chris Ward was NOT the shooter! His family are victims!” she wrote. “He is my nephew and we are at the hospital trying to find out if his wife and babies are dead!”
Another family member, Missty Phelps, wrote on Facebook, “Friends please share this Chris Ward is NOT the shooter at the Sutherland Springs church. He is my cousin and his family was shot but NOT by him.”
According to his Facebook page, Sunday was the 5th wedding anniversary for Chris Ward and his wife, Joann. And his birthday is November 6.
Ward’s mother, Sandy Ward, told the New York Times that her daughter-in-law and three grandchildren were shot, including her 5-year-old grandson, who was shot four times and was in surgery Sunday evening.
“I just started praying for everybody who was there,” Sandy Ward told the Times of when she learned what happened. She was not at the 11 a.m. service Sunday because of her troubled knees and bad hip, according to the Times.
Ward posted on Facebook in November 2011 about his upcoming wedding, writing, “getting married on nov 5 to joann i love my baby and she brings me nothing but happiness i love u joann ward.”
The victims of the shooting also include the 14-year-old daughter of Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was shot dead at the church. Pomeroy and his wife were out of town in Oklahoma for a rare weekend away, he told ABC News.
Police have not confirmed the number of victims, but reports put the dead churchgoers as between 20 to 30, with as many as 30 wounded. About 40 people are inside the church each week, according to reports. The church is located in a town of about 360 people.