Texas church shooting: more than two dozen killed

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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX. (WAND) - An armor-clad gunman opened fire inside a rural Texas church on Sunday, killing more than two dozen people in the largest mass shooting in the state's history, officials said.

Twenty-six people were killed during the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press conference Sunday evening.

“We don’t know if that number will rise or not, but we know is that’s too many and this will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain,” he said.

"We are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state's history," he added.

The shooter is also dead, officials said.

Earlier Sunday, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackett had told NBC News "approximately 25 people" were deceased, including the gunman.

Law enforcement officials identified the gunman on Sunday evening as Devin Patrick Kelley, age 26, of neighboring Comal County. Officials were preparing to search his home.

There was no immediate information on the reason behind the shooting, according to Sheriff Tackett. Federal officials said while the gunman's motivation was unclear, there were no obvious signs of a connection to terrorism.

The shooter, dressed in all black and wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest, first began firing outside the church before he continued his shooting spree inside, said Freeman Martin, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety. He was armed with a "Ruger AR assault-type rifle," he said.

A local citizen confronted the gunman, "grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect," he said.

"We know the ages range from 5 years old to 72 years of age," Martin said.

The gunman dropped the rifle and then fled the scene with the local citizen in pursuit, he said.

The suspect was later found dead in his vehicle by law enforcement, Martin said.

"We don't know if this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by our local resident who engaged him with gunfire," he added.

Sherri Pomeroy, the wife of church pastor Frank Pomeroy, told NBC News in a statement that her 14-year-old daughter was among the victims. She said she and her husband were out of town in two different states at the time of the shooting.

"We lost our 14-year-old daughter today and many friends," she said. "Neither of us have made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation."

Texas Congressman Vicente Gonzalez said on MSNBC that based on what he knew he did not believe the incident was related to terrorism, but "was some kind of other incident that has to do with the church or the community."

"It's a rural community and a conservative, mostly farmers and ranchers and people who work out in the oil and gas patches," he said, adding that the area was "very tranquil and very safe."

Carrie Matula, who works at a gas station about a block and a half away from the church, told MSNBC that she heard "semiautomatic gunfire" and looked to see what was going on.

"It's a small Baptist church. It’s an older building. I don’t know that they would have security cameras or anything high tech like that. And I know they didn’t have security in the parking lot," she said.

"I never thought it would happen here," Matula added. "This is something that happens in a big city. I would never have thought this would have taken place here. It's just too tight a community. It doesn’t make sense."

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in a poston Twitter that it was sending special agents from its field offices in Houston and San Antonio to respond to the site of the shooting.

A spokeswoman with Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville, Texas, said it had taken in eight patients. Four of those patients were transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio "for higher level of care," two were discharged and two others were still being treated at the hospital, spokeswoman Megan Posey, said.

A spokesman for the University Health System said the hospital in San Antonio had received five adults and four children, with a 10th person likely to be transferred over from a rural hospital.

President Donald Trump, travelling in Asia, 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."

The church is a white, wood-framed building with a double-door at the entrance and a Texas flag on a pole at the front area, according to its website, which was down shortly after the shooting. The website says the church schedule was for a fellowship breakfast on Sunday mornings, followed by Sunday School. A morning worship service was scheduled for 11 a.m. The first news reports of the shooting were between noon and 12:30 p.m.

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In the most recent service, posted Oct. 29, Pastor Pomeroy began by speaking in front of a stage with two guitarists and a singer. A few children can be seen moving around and climbing onto the pews. Most people, including Pomeroy, were in jeans.

Pomeroy parked a motorcycle in front of his lectern and used it as a metaphor in his sermon for having faith in forces that can't be seen, whether it was gravity or God.

"I don't look at the moment, I look at where I'm going and look at what's out there ahead of me," Pomeroy said. "I'm choosing to trust in the centripetal forces and the things of God He's put around me."

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