At least 26 people have died and about 20 are injured after a gunman opened fire today during a service at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. To the tight-knit congregation of about 50, this is an inconceivable blow.
“We heard semi-automatic gunfire… we’re only about 50 yards away from this church,” a witness, Carrie Matula, told NBC News.
According to witnesses at the gas station across the street from the church, the gunshots started at 11:15 am central time on November 5, 2017. Within minutes of the first gunshot, emergency personnel were on the scene. FBI agents have also arrived.
While an official statement on the succession of events has not yet been released, police have confirmed the shooter died while attempting to flee. It is unknown whether he was killed by police or himself.
The pastor of First Baptist, Frank Pomeroy, spoke to ABC News after the shooting. Pomeroy was out of town when the shooting happened, a rare occurrence for the pastor. He confirmed his 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was one of the victims. Considering its small size, everyone who died in this pastor’s church was a close friend of his.
Another pastor, Paul Buford of River Oaks Church located in Sutherland Springs, told reporters his congregation heard of the incident while they were also gathered in worship. “We have some first responders in our church who immediately left and went down there. And then my church went to do what we do—we started praying… we knew the best thing we could do was stay out of the way,” Buford said.
The community of Sutherland Springs was quick to gather to pray, although the prayers were understandably halting and interrupted by expressions of grief.
One reporter on the scene shared this clip of a group attempting to pray.
Families in tears wait to see if their family and friends are safe. Praying for the safety of all those involved. pic.twitter.com/yjzK7lZJ1S
— Max Massey (@MaxMasseyTV) November 5, 2017