Tuesday 19 June 2018

Texas mass shooting: Everything we know so far as small rural community comes to terms with tragedy

  • 26 killed and around 20 wounded in worst ever mass shooting in Texas
  • Police say attacker's ex-in-laws sometimes attended the church but they were not there on Sunday
  • Shooter's social media posts being examined
  • Armed resident confronted and chased assailant
  • Attacker found dead in his vehicle nearby with several weapons inside
  • Pastor's daughter (14) among those killed
  • Trump says shooting is a 'mental health' problem
Investigators work at the scene of a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas (AP)
Local residents embrace during a candlelight vigil for victims of a mass shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed
Local residents embrace during a candlelight vigil for victims of a mass shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed
Local residents embrace during a candlelight vigil for victims of a mass shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed
Law enforcement officials set up along a street near the First Baptist Church after a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, US., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed
Volunteers distribute water to law enforcement officials near the First Baptist Church after a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, US., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed
Medical personnel and law enforcement set up along a street near the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, US., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed
Law enforcement set up a cordon along an intersection in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, US., November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed
Texas Governor Greg Abbott embraces a woman at a vigil following a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 5, 2017. Nick Wagner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN via REUTERS.
A woman prays after a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 5, 2017. Nick Wagner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN via REUTERS.

Agency reporters and Leon Watson

The man who killed at least 26 people in a Baptist church in a rural Texas town on Sunday was found dead in his vehicle near the scene and it is believed he died by suicide after opening fire on the congregation.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CBS News in an interview on Monday morning gunfire was exchanged between the gunman and two armed citizens during a vehicle chase after the shootings.

"There was some gunfire exchanged, I believe, on the roadway also, and then (the shooter's vehicle) wrecked out," said Tackitt. "At this time we believe that he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after he wrecked out."

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.

Suspect Devin Kelley CREDIT: Telegraph UK wire service
Suspect Devin Kelley CREDIT: Telegraph UK wire service

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.

Relatives of the gunman sometimes worshipped at the church where he opened fire but were not there during Sunday's attack, the local sheriff said on Monday.

"We know that his ex-in-laws or in-laws came to church here from time to time," Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. told CNN in an interview. "They were not here yesterday."

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.

"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."

Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team use metal detectors at the playground at the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team use metal detectors at the playground at the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Memorial flowers are surrounded by media waiting for a news conference outside the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A woman delivers flowers to a memorial surrounded by media waiting for a news conference outside the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team use metal detectors outside the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Pastor Frank Pomeroy (L) listens to his wife Sherri speaking at a news conference outside the site of the shooting at his church, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team use metal detectors outside the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Pastor Frank Pomeroy, with his wife Sherri, listens at a news conference outside the site of the shooting at his church, the First Baptist Church of Sutherland, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Officials speak to the news media during a news conference, a day after a mass shooting at the First Baptish Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Jon Herskovitz
A law enforcement vehicle sits outside the entrance where Devin Patrick Kelley lived Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in New Braunfels, Texas.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
A bouquet of flowers lies at the base of a roadblock where law enforcement officials work at the scene of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. . (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The playground at the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A woman looks at her phone on her porch next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A woman looks at her phone, on her porch next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A woman sits on her porch next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Neighbours who live next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs are pictured, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Neighbours who live next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs are pictured, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Neighbours who live next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs are pictured, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A woman is escorted to site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Neighbours who live next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs are pictured, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Police stand outside the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
The site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
The playground at the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
The site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
The playground at the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
The site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A man walks past the front of the First Baptist Church on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, where a gunman opened fire on a Sunday service in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Media and police stand outside the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
Police stand outside the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A police officer walks down the street past a huge refrigerated tent outside the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking
A police officer stands outside the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

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.

A man told San Antonio television station KSAT he was driving near the church when the resident who had opened fire on the gunman approached his truck and urged him to give chase.

"He said that we had to get him (the gunman), and so that's what I did," Johnnie Langendorff, the driver of the truck, told KSAT. He added they reached speeds of 95 miles (153 km/h) per hour during the chase, while he was on the phone with emergency dispatchers.

Soon afterward, the suspect crashed the vehicle near the border of a neighboring county and was found dead inside with a cache of weapons. 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 U.S. 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.

Jeff Forrest, a 36-year-old military veteran who lives a block away from the church, said what sounded like high-caliber, semi-automatic gunfire triggered memories of his four combat deployments with the Marine Corps.

"I was on the porch, I heard 10 rounds go off and then my ears just started ringing," Forrest said. "I hit the deck and I just lay there."

To honor the victims, Trump ordered flags on all federal buildings to be flown at half staff.

In Japan during the first leg of a 12-day Asian trip, the president said preliminary reports indicated the shooter was "deranged."

"This isn't a guns situation, I mean we could go into it, but it's a little bit soon to go into it," Trump said. "But fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise ... it would have been much worse. But this is a mental health problem at the highest level."

The First Baptist Church is one of two houses of worship in Sutherland Springs, which also has two gas stations and a Dollar General store.

The white-painted, one-story church features a small steeple and a single front door. On Sunday, the Lone Star flag of Texas was flying alongside the U.S. flag and a third, unidentified banner.

Inside, there is a small raised platform on which members sang worship songs to guitar music and the pastor delivered a weekly sermon, according to videos posted on YouTube. In one of the clips, a few dozen people, including young children, can be seen sitting in the wooden pews.

It was not clear how many worshipers were inside when Sunday's shooting occurred.

Additional reporting by Telegraph reporters

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