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A lone gunman killed at least 26 people Sunday morning during church services in the Wilson County community of Sutherland Springs in what Gov. Greg Abbott called the deadliest mass shooting in state history. Twenty more were wounded and transported to area hospitals; eight people were sent to University Hospital in San Antonio.
“There’s so many families who lost family members: fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters,” Abbott said during a press conference in nearby Stockdale.
The shooter was identified by multiple media outlets as Devin Kelley of New Braunfels, but law enforcement officials did not immediately confirm the identity publicly, saying only that the gunman was a white male in his early 20s.
The gunman began firing outside the First Baptist Church sometime after 11 a.m., then entered the building and fired into the crowd of worshipers, said Freeman Martin, Texas Department of Public Safety’s Region 6 director. As the gunman left the church, a local resident fired at him and pursued his vehicle. The suspect crashed his vehicle in Guadalupe County and was found dead with several weapons inside his vehicle, Martin said.
Authorities have not released the identities of the victims, but CNN reported that the 14-year-old daughter of one of the church’s pastors was among the dead. A 1991 shooting at a Luby’s restaurant in Killeen that left 23 people and the gunman dead and wounded 27 others was previously the state’s worst mass shooting.
Sutherland Springs is about 35 miles southeast of downtown San Antonio.
In a post on his Facebook page, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg called the shooting “alarming.”
“The investigation is ongoing and our community stands with Wilson County in prayer,” he stated. “To have such a violent act occur in a place of worship magnifies the pain for communities at large. San Antonio holds our neighbors in prayer.”
Other City Council members and state officials offered similar sentiments as well as prayers.
“While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation, Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act,” said Abbott in a statement. “I want to thank law enforcement for their response and ask that all Texans pray for the Sutherland Springs community during this time of mourning and loss.”
The San Antonio Police Department deployed its bomb squad and detecting K-9 unit to assist local and federal law enforcement, a spokesperson confirmed. The fire department also was standing by to assist with medical resources.
“I’m in shock by what happened,” said Rev. Robert Woody, rector at the Episcopal Church of Reconciliation. “I don’t understand why someone would do this.”
As mass shootings have become more frequent and deadly in the U.S., Woody said, security issues have come up during leadership meetings at the church.
“Do faith communities need to have some kind of strategy for anticipating something like this?” he asked rhetorically. “What would it look like to have someone present who is armed and responsible for preventing something like this from happening?”
Mass shootings and both domestic and foreign terror attacks often lead to re-evaluations of security measures, but Woody said he would not “want to do anything to distract people from why they’re here: to worship.”
Woody also sits on the board of the San Antonio Sponsoring Committee, a network made up of leaders of churches, schools, and nonprofits that works to benefit the community.
It’s possible that network, which includes many local churches in its members, could start to consider these issues as could the City’s Faith-Based Initiative, he said.
This story was originally published on Nov, 5, 2017. Jeffrey Sullivan contributed to this report.