Hundreds of mourners gathered in Sutherland Springs Monday night for a vigil memorializing the 26 lives taken during a Sunday service inside the small community’s First Baptist Church. Area pastors led prayers and a band of worshipers from San Antonio played hymns while shaken community members embraced and comforted one another.
The attack, which also injured 20, claimed the lives of people ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years old. Among those killed were the First Baptist Church pastor’s 14-year-old daughter and a pregnant woman. It is the state’s deadliest mass shooting to date.
Among the grieving Sutherland Springs residents were Stephen Willeford and Johnnie Langendorff, who both pursued the shooter – identified Monday as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley of New Braunfels – after he opened fire on the congregation.
Pastors and chaplains from the surrounding area and across the state convened to aid in the community’s grieving process. Ray Torres, a pastor at Sold Out Believers Church on San Antonio’s Eastside, was leaving his parish Sunday morning when he got a call about the shooting.
“What if it would have happened at our church?” Torres asked after the vigil Monday night. He said he felt compelled to help the grieving community and traveled to Sutherland Springs.
He also called upon members of his church to play music at the Monday night vigil. A guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist, drummer, and several singers responded in solidarity.
“We’re feeling what they’re feeling,” said Melissa Miller, one of the band members. “It’s sad, what happened to the families.”
Miller described how one woman at the vigil hesitantly approached her asking to join her in prayer.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Miller said. “We’re here to help you, to care [for] you, to pray for you.”
Area pastors shared in leading attendees in prayer during the vigil, each encouraging their own form of engagement during the event. One asked that everyone take out their phones and shine their flashlights in lieu of lit candles.
“This is a healing process for the entire community,” Torres told the crowd before the sun set. “Pastors are waiting for you here in the front; to talk with you, to pray with you, to just be with you. To give you a hug and to unite together.”
While Miller and the rest of the band played, people embraced and offered condolences. Some stood in silence.
“Its a very intimate setting just because of the knowledge that everyone has in their purpose of coming together for unity,” Derrick Torvick said, a La Vernia resident and worship team member at Kingdom Life San Antonio in Terrell Hills. “It is hard [to worship after a tragedy], but I believe God is so good no matter what.”
While he did not feel personal relief, Torres said he was glad he took the action in supporting the Sutherland Springs community.
“Just share the love that God has given us,” Torres said. “That’s pretty much how it went down today.”