CHURCH leaders have offered prayers and deplored gun violence, after at least 26 people were killed and dozens more injured when a man opened fire on the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday.
Among the dead was the 14-year-old daughter of the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, who was not present; a five-year-old child; elderly churchgoers; and a pregnant woman whose three children, brother-in-law, and niece were also killed. Two people died outside the church, 23 inside, and one in hospital from their wounds.
The suspect was named by local sources as Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old ex-Air Force serviceman who had been discharged for bad conduct in 2014 after being court-martialled for domestic assault two years previously.
He opened fire on the congregation at the morning service, reportedly dressed in black with a bullet vest, while his vehicle was outside with the engine running. A six-year-old boy who was shot four times was among the 20 people who were injured.
The suspect was found dead in his vehicle from a self-inflicted gun wound to the head shortly afterwards. Officials have suggested that the attack may have been motivated by a domestic dispute.
The Presiding Bishop of the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, gave a blessing to the victims via video from Aberdeen, Scotland, where he had been giving thanks at St Andrew’s Cathedral for ties with the Scottish Episcopal Church.
“But even as we gave thanks we heard word that a gunman in Sutherland Springs, Texas, had entered First Baptist Church and some 26 people have been killed, maybe more wounded and afflicted,” he said. “So I offer this prayer for those who have died; for those who are suffering; for those who are still healing from physical wounds and the emotional, spiritual, and mental scars.
“And as I pray and invite you to pray the prayer our Lord taught us, I invite you to pray that God’s will be done; that God might guide us to find a better way; to find concrete steps so that this kind of thing does not happen again. But above all we prayer for those who have suffered, and those who have died.”
The Bishop of Dallas, the Rt Revd George Sumner, said: “Our prayers are with our brothers and sisters of the congregation of First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, the bereaved, the wounded, all responders, and the community at large. May the souls of all the departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace.”
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops extended their prayers and condolences to the victims, families, first-responders, and the Baptist community in the US.
“This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at churches while people were worshipping and at prayer,” its president, Cardinal Danial N DiNardo, said in a statement.
“We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society. A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who himself is peace, send us his spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture his peace among us all.”
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, questioned the “root causes” of the violence. “As weapons become ever more devastating and accessible, and extremist rhetoric augments into extremist action, we must condemn the disregard for human life,” he said.
“Such violence is so painful to confront when it is senselessly focused on people who are worshipping in a place they feel safe to gather as a community to express their faith. How do we cope and respond? We cannot necessarily ease someone’s pain but we can walk beside them, whether we are their neighbour across the street or we are thousands of miles away.”
President Trump has said that the incident was not a “gun situation” but about the mental health of the attacker. “I think that mental health is a problem here,” he told reporters at the end of a two-day state visit to Japan. “Based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a very long period.”
Meanwhile, the Texas attorney-general, Ken Paxton, a Republican, told Fox News shortly after the attack that congregations should be armed or hire “professional security” to address the threat of violence.
Vigils and prayers were held opposite the church on Sunday night.
In 2015, nine people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, by Dylann Roof, during a Bible-study (News, 19 June 2015).