0551 GMT March 19, 2018
The massacre, which media reports say was carried out by a man thrown out of the Air Force for assaulting his wife and child, is likely to renew questions about why someone with a history of violence could amass an arsenal of lethal weaponry, Reuters reported.
The lone gunman, dressed in black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, drove up to the white-steepled First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and started firing inside. He kept shooting once he entered, killing or wounding victims ranging in age from five to 72 years, police told a news conference.
President Donald Trump told reporters the shooting was due to a “mental health problem” and wasn’t “a guns situation.” He was speaking during an official visit to Japan.
Among the dead was the 14-year-old daughter of church Pastor Frank Pomeroy, the family told several television stations. One couple, Joe and Claryce Holcombe, told the Washington Post they lost eight extended family members, including their pregnant granddaughter-in-law and three of her children.
The gunman was later found dead, apparently of a gunshot wound, after he fled the scene.
“We are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told a news conference. “The tragedy, of course, is worsened by the fact that it occurred in a church, a place of worship.”
About 40 miles (65 km) east of San Antonio in Wilson County, Sutherland Springs has fewer than 400 residents.
“This would never be expected in a little county like this,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told CNN.
A local resident with a rifle fired at the suspect as he left the church. The gunman dropped his Ruger assault weapon and fled in his vehicle, said Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
It was not immediately clear if he killed himself or was hit when the resident fired at him outside the church, authorities said.
The suspect’s identity was not disclosed by authorities, but law enforcement officials who asked not to be named said he was Devin Patrick Kelley, described as a white, 26-year-old man, the New York Times and other media reported.
The massacre came weeks after a sniper killed 58 people in Las Vegas. It was the deadliest attack in modern US history and rekindled a years-long national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to the trend of mass shootings.
In rural areas like Sutherland Springs, gun ownership is a part of life and the state’s Republican leaders for years have balked at campaigns for gun control, arguing that more firearms among responsible owners make the state safer.