Investigators hunt for motive in Texas church taking pictures because the grieving spans generations


Bailey LeJeaune, 17, and David Betancourt, 18, maintain candles throughout a vigil in Sutherland Springs for the victims of a lethal taking pictures on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman through AP)

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Names, faces and grieving household tales started to emerge Monday from the carnage on the First Baptist Church — together with eight kinfolk spanning three generations — at the same time as investigators struggled to know why a lone gunman dressed himself in black commando gear and opened hearth on the pews.

The loss of life toll stood at 26 individuals after Sunday’s bloodbath, however the determine might shift. Authorities initially reported the vary in ages among the many useless as between 5 and 72. A household, nonetheless, mentioned a 1-year-old woman additionally was killed — a part of a bunch of eight relations misplaced within the lethal spray from the attacker’s Ruger badault-style rifle.

The gunman — recognized as a former member of the Air Force — then got here underneath hearth from an area man and fled in automotive chase earlier than operating off the roadway, the place he was discovered useless, authorities mentioned. Authorities mentioned they discovered a number of weapons within the gunman’s car.

The badault left a staggering gap in a Texas city of fewer than 700 individuals and, for some, strengthened a way of unease that no place might be thought of immune from doable violence after a live performance floor in Las Vegas, a Walmart in Colorado, a Nashville church and a motorcycle path in New York all turned scenes of loss of life and bloodshed over the previous six weeks.

President Trump appeared to attempt to pre-emptively steer the controversy away from gun management after the Texas slayings, which authorities say was carried out by a 26-year-old former Air Force member who was court-martialed in 2012 and sentenced to a yr in army jail for badaulting his partner and little one. The suspect, recognized as Devin Kelley, was diminished in rank and launched with a bad-conduct discharge in 2014.

At a information convention in Tokyo, Trump mentioned he thought “mental health” was a doable motive. “Based on preliminary reports,” he mentioned, the shooter was “a very deranged individual, a lot of problems for a long period of time.” Trump didn’t present the idea for his badertion, saying “it’s a little bit soon to go into it.”

“ . . . This isn’t a guns situation,”  he added. “Fortunately someone else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction” or it “would have been much worse.”

[ An unlikely hero describes gun battle and 95 mph chase with Texas shooting suspect ]

Trump’s response contrasted together with his unrestrained feedback calling for the “death penalty” after the obvious Islamic State-inspired badault in Lower Manhattan on Halloween, when an immigrant from Uzbekistan plowed rented truck into cyclists and others, killing eight individuals.

Sunday’s badault in Sutherland Springs appeared deliberate properly upfront.

Witnesses mentioned the gunman — wearing all black and sporting a tactical vest — began taking pictures with an badault rifle as he approached the church. Police mentioned the gunman killed two individuals exterior earlier than getting into the church and spraying bullets on the congregation throughout morning worship within the nation city about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio.

After the trade of gunfire with an armed civilian, the gunman drove away with two native males in pursuit. It was “act now, ask questions later,” mentioned the truck’s driver, Johnnie Langendorff. By the time they caught up with him, nonetheless, the fleeing man had crashed his SUV right into a ditch. “He might have been unconscious from the crash or something like that, I’m not sure,” Langendorff informed reporters.

Law enforcement officers collect close to the First Baptist Church following a taking pictures on November 5, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

“The local citizen pursued him,” mentioned Freeman Martin, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety. “We don’t know if it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by our local resident who engaged him in a gunfight.”

[Two regulation enforcement officers informed The Washington Post that the suspect Kelley lived in a close-by county. But there have been few clues made public on a doable motive or Kelley’s connection to tiny Sutherland Springs, tucked right into a stretch of flatlands and farms.]

[ Who is Devin Patrick Kelley, the gunman officials say killed churchgoers in Sutherland Springs? ]

The killings left huge and in some cases multigenerational gaps in some households. Joe and Claryce Holcombe misplaced kids, grandchildren and great-grandchildren unexpectedly, a complete of eight prolonged relations, the couple mentioned in a telephone interview with The Post.

Their son, Bryan Holcombe, 60, and his spouse, Carla Holcombe, 58, had been killed. Bryan was affiliate pastor for the church and strolling to evangelise on the pulpit when he was shot, Joe Holcombe informed The Post.

Among the useless was additionally their granddaughter-in-law, Crystal Holcombe, who was pregnant. She died alongside together with her unborn little one and three of her kids, Emily, Megan and Greg, in response to Joe Holcombe. She had been at church together with her husband, John Holcombe, who survived together with two of her different kids.

Their grandson, Marc Daniel Holcombe and his toddler daughter, who’s a couple of yr outdated, additionally died, Joe and Claryce Holcombe mentioned.

Kevin Jordan, 30, was altering the oil in his Ford Focus forward of a household highway journey when he heard the pops of gunfire. When he stood up and turned his head, he noticed a person sporting physique armor, a vest and a masks stroll down the sidewalk towards the church about 50 yards from his house.

“He was just spraying at the front of the church,” Jordan mentioned. “He was shooting outside at first, and then he walked to the door and started shooting inside.”

After recognizing the shooter, Jordan mentioned, he ran inside his house, scooped up his son, alerted his spouse and rushed his household into their toilet, the place they crouched and hid whereas calling 911. He mentioned the shooter noticed him as he fled and took a shot that went via his entrance window, practically hitting his 2-year-old son.

“I looked at the shooter, and he looked right at me,” he mentioned. When the taking pictures stopped, Jordan, who works as a medical badistant, ran to the church, hoping to badist.

“I walked inside and just walked out. I couldn’t handle it,” he mentioned. “It was bad. A lot of blood and bodies. The pews were knocked over. I’m a medical badistant and medical badisting does not prepare you for this.”

Tucked a number of hundred yards off Highway 87 amid scrubby farmland, the dusty and often quiet streets of Sutherland Springs, lined with modest one-story household houses and trailers. A city with few streetlights that usually goes darkish after sunset flashed crimson and blue with police lights on nearly each block.

In late September, a masked gunman stormed right into a small group church exterior of Nashville and shot seven individuals, together with the pastor, killing one. Authorities mentioned the suspect in that taking pictures, Emanuel Kidega Samson, might need been motivated by a need for revenge for a 2015 taking pictures that focused black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. — an badault that left 9 individuals useless.

[ Trump suggests “mental health” points, not “gun situation,” at root of Texas badault ]

[It also came just more than a month after 58 people were killed at a Las Vegas country music festival, in what was the deadliest mbad shooting in recent U.S. history; the badailant, Stephen Paddock, killed himself after a lengthy shooting spree from his 32nd-floor Mandalay Bay hotel suite.]

Few particulars had been instantly obtainable about Kelley, and makes an attempt to achieve his household had been unsuccessful Sunday. Kelley had at one level been within the army, enlisting in 2010 and serving as a logistical readiness airman stationed at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, in response to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek, who additionally confirmed Kelley’s 2012 court-martial.

Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of First Baptist Church, informed ABC News that he was not current through the church service however that his teenage daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy, 14, was among the many useless.

“She was very quiet, shy, always smiling, and helpful to all,” Cynthia Rangel, 50, a resident of close by Stockdale, mentioned of . Rangel, an area emergency medical technician, mentioned she knew three people who had been hospitalized after the taking pictures and had been present process surgical procedure. “This just all seems like it’s not real.”

Dana Fletcher, who owns a enterprise a quarter-mile from the church, mentioned she and her household simply moved to Sutherland Springs. She mentioned she was first alerted to the taking pictures by a name from a reporter.

“My husband and I both are still in shock,” she mentioned. “It’s a little tiny church that was targeted. It’s shocking. It’s a bit frightening because it’s a little bit close to home.”

Carrie Matula, who works at a gasoline station close to the church, informed MSNBC she ran out to see what was occurring after listening to gunshots.

“I never thought it would happen here,” she mentioned. “This is something that happens in a big city. I would have never thought this would have taken place here. It’s just too tight a community. It doesn’t make sense.”

The church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, the most important Protestant denomination within the nation, with about 15 million members. First Baptist reported a mean estimated attendance of 100 in 2015. The church is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, thought of certainly one of Texas’s extra theologically conservative teams of Southern Baptists.

Trump first addressed the taking pictures whereas touring in Asia early Monday, sending his ideas and prayers to the victims and households.

“This act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of sacred worship,” he mentioned. “We cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel, and we cannot begin to imagine the suffering of those who lost the ones they so dearly loved. Our hearts are broken, but in dark times — and these are dark times — such as these, Americans do what they do best: We pull together. We join hands. We lock arms, and through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong — oh, so strong.”

Phillips and Berman reported from Washington. Mary Lee Grace in San Antonio and Wesley Lowery, Brian Murphy, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Ed O’Keefe, Alex Horton, Samantha Schmidt and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.

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