First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs pastor Frank Pomeroy took the stage at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts Saturday morning to talk about healing in his community.

Pomeroy heads the church that lost more than 20 of its congregation nearly two years ago, when a shooter killed 26 and injured 20 more at First Baptist Church in the Wilson County community. Pomeroy lost his 14-year-old daughter Annabelle that day. He joined church member David Colbath, who was wounded in the shooting, and first responder and victim advocate Katy Quinney for a panel at a mental health conference on Saturday.

The fourth annual Pathways to Hope conference focused on the role that communities play in mental health.

“The church was the center of the community in many ways,” Pomeroy said. “And because of that, the entire community put faith beyond themselves. In the midst of that tragedy, that faith sustained us, and that it’s that faith that’s helping us to grow.”

Colbath, who has spoken in San Antonio before, said that Sutherland Springs residents refuse to “drive in the rearview mirror” and instead look forward to what’s next. But he added that seeing more mass shootings hinders his healing. He woke up on a Sunday morning to the news of the Dayton, Ohio and El Paso shootings.

“It does set you back,” he said. “And I think anybody with any heart, it would set them back.

Instead of focusing on his own pain, Colbath said he chose to turn to his trust in God and reach out to other victims to ask what he can do for them.

Pomeroy said the church’s goal is to be there for others. He urged people dealing with trauma and tragedy to put their hope into the “unseen.”

(from left) Moderator Mary Beth Fisk with the Ecumenical Center, Pastor Frank Pomeroy of Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, David Colbath survivor from Sutherland Springs, and Katy Quinney Wilson County victim advocate. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“What you see, the circumstance you’re in, that’s not what you want to put your hope into because that will cause you to spiral into depression,” he said. “Put it into your fellow man. Put it into God. Without hope, there is no life.”

Katy Quinney, a victim advocate who responded to the Sutherland Springs shooting, said she was touched by how the church reached out to first responders to make sure they’re OK too.

“They are the most faithful people I’ve ever met in my life,” she said. “That resonates from the inside of that church out into the entire community.”

Pomeroy criticized media coverage and “outside sources” for dividing residents of El Paso into factions of financial or immigration status. Too often tragedies are politicized to fit certain ideologies, he said.

“Those things took root first,” he said. “What takes root first is going to overshadow everything else that comes in. They’re having a very difficult time to heal and start that healing process because there was so much salt poured into that wound and the wound was tragic enough.”

Pomeroy recently filed to run as a Republican for Texas Senate District 21 and appointed a campaign treasurer earlier this week. He is the only other candidate besides longtime incumbent state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) who has filed for that district.

El Paso, Dayton, and other victims of tragedies need prayer, Pomeroy said.

“I know people say, ‘Well, prayers don’t do anything,’” he said. “To the people in the midst of the situation that are hurting, just to know people are thinking about them – whether it be prayers or whatever – to know that they are not alone is what we’re bringing them.”

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.