At least 26 people were slain and dozens injured in a mass shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas when a gunman clad in combat gear walked into the small country church and gunned down parishioners, including pregnant women and children.
The shooter was identified by The New York Times and CBS News as Devin P. Kelley, a former Air Force man who received a court martial in 2014 and once wrote that he taught Bible study classes. However, he’d also started preaching about atheism on Facebook recently, creeping out friends, who described him as increasingly weird. Casualty counts grew throughout the day. The governor later confirmed that 26 people, not counting the gunman, had died. A KSAT-TV reporter at the scene said that an “ambu-bus” had responded, which is used for multiple victims. More than 20 were injured, CNN reported.
The shooter is also dead, and authorities say he might have been shot by a heroic citizen who grabbed a rifle and chased him down the road, accompanied by another passerby who stopped to intervene. “Police are checking for explosive devices at the home” of the shooter, reported San Antonio.com. (False information spread quickly on the gunman’s name; a congressman initially gave the false name Sam Hyde live on CNN as the shooter, but that’s a well-known Internet hoax, and the name emerges in most mass shootings. Another man whose name was falsely tossed around on social media is actually grieving because members of his family are reportedly among the wounded.)
Compounding the tragedy, “there are no medical facilities” in tiny Sutherland Springs, with the closest hospital 30 miles away, a KENS5 reporter noted. Some local news reports indicated that the church may have lost half of its congregation and the town 4 percent of its people, as only about 40-50 people generally attend church services on any given morning. The community itself is so small, numbering only hundreds, that almost everyone in Sutherland Springs is likely to know someone injured. “My heart is broken,” one local official, Albert Gamez Jr., said to CNN. “We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, what can happen.” One woman told CNN the church was “your quintessential country church” in small town America. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72, and they included eight members of the same family.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Gunman Showed Off a Rifle on Facebook & Is From Outside San Antonio
Devin Kelley was from nearby New Braunfels, Texas, according to his social media pages. The shooter was “now ID’d by authorities; white male in his 20s from outside San Antonio,” reported Mike Levine, a journalist for ABC News. “Authorities are now scrubbing his social media; on Facebook in recent days, he showed off an AR-15 style-looking gun.” Kelley labeled the rifle a bad “b*tch” in the cover photo from the now deleted page. Authorities said the rifle used in the massacre was similar to the one Kelley posted on Facebook, but they could not confirm it was the same weapon. You can see a screenshot below:
The governor said on CNN that Kelley, because of a bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Air Force, had been denied a permit to carry a gun by the state. The network also reported that he had purchased a weapon at a San Antonio gun store in 2016 all the same. It also emerged from the sheriff that the gunman had a personal tie to First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, although his motive has not yet been detailed; Kelley’s in-laws attended the church, although they weren’t present during the mass shooting, authorities said. Kelley was married and was sued for divorce several years ago, according to The New York Times.
Some details were emerging from reporters at the scene, and they agreed on this: The male suspect walked into the church and opened fire, shooting many rounds in only a few seconds, possibly with a semi-automatic weapon. “A man in full gear came into the church and unloaded several rounds, and then took off in a vehicle,” a KSAT-TV reporter said in a live report on Facebook Live. The FBI was at the scene after the tragedy unfolded. The community is a rural one, and the shooting occurred during church services, a KENS5 reporter said. One of the first responders was a deputy who was at a different church service a few miles away. Authorities later revealed in a news conference that the shooter was dressed all in black and tactical type gear and was wearing a ballistic vest.
A heroic neighbor intervened, as did a man passing by G. Summer Caddel said her boyfriend, Johnnie Langendorff, “called her moments after the shooting at First Baptist Church and told her that he saw a gunfight between the shooter and a neighbor, who was returning fire,” according to KSAT-TV. “Langendorff then told Caddel the suspect — identified at Devin Patrick Kelley — then got into an SUV and drove away, and the two gave chase.” She said that the car then crashed. It’s not clear how Kelley was shot. Langendorff spoke to local TV (see above) and said he was just driving by when he saw two men exchanging gunfire outside the church.
One woman wrote on Facebook, “Please pray for Sutherland Springs a gunman in full gear walked into the Baptist church and there are casualties……he took off crash his vehicle not far from my daughter’s house and was on foot i believe the police got him. For those of you calling about my daughter and family there are all ok. Pray for these families this is absolutely heartbreaking.”
KSAT and The Los Angeles Times both reported that neighbors said they heard gunfire emanating from the shooter’s property at night.
Authorities revealed in a news conference that the gunman was carrying a Ruger AR assault type weapon. They said that he was first spotted at a gas station and then walked across the street and fired at the church before going inside it and firing some more. Some of those killed were discovered outside the church, although most of the deceased were inside the building. The gunman then leapt in a car, and a pursuit ensued. Although early reports said the police pursued Kelley, authorities now say that a heroic citizen grabbed a rifle and gave chase. Kelley was later found dead in his car a short ways away. It’s not yet clear whether he died of a self-inflicted wound or the citizen shot him, authorities said.
People on Twitter and Facebook wrote within minutes that a man, possibly with an assault rifle, had shot multiple people. People posted frantic messages on social media about loved ones. Witnesses reported that the man walked into the church around 11:30 a.m. Sunday and opened fire, KSAT-TV reported, adding, “The church is located in the 500 block of 4th Street in the small, south Texas town about 40 miles east of San Antonio.” (Recent population figures said the town has only 362 people.)
Witness, Carrie Matula, told NBC News: “We heard semi-automatic gunfire… we’re only about 50 yards away from this church.” First Baptist Church, of Sutherland Springs, Texas, has posted videos of its services on YouTube. That raises the possibility that the shooting was captured on video, although this is not yet clear.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy oversees the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Pomeroy’s wife, Sherri, told NBC News that her husband was out of town during the shooting, but their daughter was inside. Frank Pomeroy later told ABC News that their daughter, Annabelle, 14, was one of those killed. Pomeroy described Annabelle as “one very beautiful special child” to ABC News.
2. Praying & Crying Family Members Arrived at the Church to Get News of Their Loved Ones & It Was Revealed That the Gunman Once Assisted in Bible School
The scene outside the church was tragic and heartbreaking as crying family members of loved ones gathered outside, desperate for information about them, and praying. A local hospital has reported receiving multiple victims. The ATF was responding to the scene. One woman was in the kitchen when the shooting occurred and survived the attack, a KENS5 journalist reported from the scene. About 100 people had gathered at the community center in Sutherland Springs, waiting for news.
“Sheriff Joe Tackitt confirmed that there were multiple casualties and multiple fatalities. The shooter has been taken down,” reported Wilson County News. Videos and photos posted to social media, more of which you can see below, showed a massive law enforcement response to the scene.
Devin Kelley’s LinkedIn page says that he was a VBS “teacher aid (sic)” for “VBS AT KINGSVILLE FBC” and notes, “Dates volunteered Jun 2013 – Jun 2013 Volunteer duration 1 mo. Cause Children. Teaching children ages 4-6 at vocational bible schools helping their minds grow and prosper.” However, multiple children are reportedly among those shot in the church. Kelley’s Facebook page also showed that he had liked pages devoted to atheism, as well as those on German Shepherds, Glocks, and karate.
However, VBS stands for Vacation Bible School, not vocational. Furthermore, former high school classmates who became his Facebook friends recently wrote in comment threads that they’d recently become very weirded out by Kelley’s repeated comments on atheism. For example, another former classmate, Nina Rose Nava, wrote on her Facebook page: “…in complete shock! I legit just deleted him off my fb cause I couldn’t stand his post. He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism. Smh.” It’s not clear why the killer would say he briefly taught Bible classes if he was fixated on atheism. She also wrote, “Me and my friend say him a month back at dennys and we were talking about how weird he was!!!”
Texas Governor Greg Abbott condemned what he called an “evil act.” He wrote on Twitter, “Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act. Our thanks to law enforcement for their response. More details from DPS soon.” CNN reported that a “witness, a cashier at a gas station across the street from the church, said she heard about 20 shots being fired in quick succession while a church service was underway around 11:30 a.m. local time.”
President Donald Trump tweeted, “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.” One reporter described seeing tarps in the yard, possibly covering dead bodies.
3. The Shooter Once Served in the U.S. Air Force & Claimed He Represented Its ‘Core Values’
The LinkedIn page in the shooter’s name shows that Devin Kelley served in the U.S. Air Force right after high school, from 2009 through 2013. According to The New York Times, Kelley is from Comal County and lived on a wooded property where his parents have a $1 million house. His motive and why he targeted the Wilson County church remain unclear, although the personal ties through the wife, Danielle Shields Kelley, are emerging. Comal County is located northeast of San Antonio, Texas. The Daily Beast reported that Kelley was a “resident of New Braunfels, a suburb of San Antonio.”
Kelley’s LinkedIn page says, under the entry for U.S. Air Force, “Cargo, demand and supply , distribution.” He added, “Basic learning on my contracted job.” The page says he attended New Braunfels High School from 2003 to 2009, receiving his diploma. His LinkedIn page also says, “I am a hard working dedicated person. I live by he (sic) core values on which the Air Force go by.” He identified himself as a “management consulting professional” and said he was CPR certified.
However, CBS News reported that the suspect is former “US Air Force E1 (2010-2014). He received a dishonorable discharge. He was court martialed in May 2014.” The network also wrote, “Kelley is a former U.S. Air Force member who served from 2010 to 2014. He was dishonorably discharged and court martialed in May 2014.” Later reports said the shooter was eventually found guilty of a bad conduct charge for assaulting his wife and child.
A reporter for KSAT-TV also says the shooter is dead, and that police confirmed there were multiple victims, writing, “#BREAKING Confirmed shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, police say multiple victims.” That reporter, Matt Massey, also wrote that “neighbors say they heard shooter may have reloaded multiple times, around 50 people usually at service.” He reported that at least six helicopters were called in to transport victims.
The assault rifle reports originated on social media. “Oh my God if you live in Sutherland Springs or Wilson County please go in side and stay safe. My family just called me freaking out because across the street from their house a guy with an assault rifle started shooting in our town church and even shot my brothers house. If ur from my hometown go inside, lock ur doors and so be safe and I love you all,” wrote one woman on Facebook.
According to CNN, “The shooter was killed after a brief chase north into neighboring Guadalupe County, according Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Robert Murphy.”
4. Young Children & a Pregnant Woman Are Among the Victims
Horrifically, reports say that other small children are among the victims. “6yo boy named Rylan was shot 4 times at the church in Sutherland Springs & is now in surgery, according to his uncle who spoke to CBS News,” reported a CBS News correspondent. His mother and two siblings are dead. Other reports said that several 5-year-old children were shot, and that another child hid under a pew. Multiple children from the same family were shot, a CBS correspondent reported.
This is a photo of Rylan:
According to The New York Times, a pregnant woman was among the victims. Another man said that people he knew were inside the church. He wrote on Facebook, “Just got a call from (named removed) prayers needed for Sutherland Springs community. Someone went into the Baptist Church and shot 15 people. The guy is one the run and they have the roads closed down. (Names removed) were at their church in LaVernia. Please keep prayers going.”
Youth are heavily involved in the church. “The youth are also involved in many outreach and community service activities such as visiting a local nursing home, running a concession stand, helping neighbors clear property after a storm and participating in our church workdays,” its website states. “We meet every Wednesday at 7:00 PM, Thursday at 7:00 PM and Sunday at 9:45 AM. Come as you are. We are looking forward to meeting you!”
5. People Posted Frantic Messages on Social Media As News of the Shooting Broke
“I’m hearing there was a shooting at the First Baptist Church on 539 near Hartfield Rd in the Sutherland Springs area. Lots of sheriff’s deputies on scene, blocking traffic. EMS from all over Wilson County have been called in. Multiple victims,” one social media user wrote. Another man wrote on Facebook, “A bunch of people have been shot in Sutherland springs . The church and gas station people walked in and started shooting so far herd 15 dead maybe more.”
This article will be updated as more is learned about the mass shooting.
Now you can read this story in Spanish in our sister site AhoraMismo.com: