On Sunday, November 4, 26 people were shot dead in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a small town in Texas. The suspect has been identified as Air Force veteran Devin Patrick Kelley, who shot himself in the head after crashing amid a high-speed car chase by two surviving church-goers. This event marked the deadliest church shooting in American history, and is the worst of the three church shootings in the past three years, above: 2015, SC, 9 deaths; and 2017, TN, 6 deaths. This was also the deadliest shooting in the state’s history.
This was truly a tragedy for the people of Sutherland Springs, a town where “everybody knows everybody,” according to Gloria Rodriguez Ximenez, an attender of a vigil held in respect for the dead hours after the event. The church-attenders killed represented 4% of the town’s population, according to Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt. During the vigil, the residents of the town hugged one another, held candles and sang hymns. Ximenez continued, “This is a small, Christian town, a very small community. Everyone’s united. Everybody’s so close to everybody.” Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr. told CNN that “My heart is broken. We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this.”
The gunman was first seen across the street from the church at a Valero gas station at about 11:20 a.m. He then crossed the street and started shooting at it. According to witness David Flores, “My dad saw the gunman run into the church building and then he heard shots and saw people running. People covered in blood and screaming. It was pandemonium everywhere.” Before the shooter had the time to leave, a local resident engaged him with his own rifle, and the gunman then dropped his weapon and fled. The local resident then informed a Johnnie Langendorff about the shooting, and they both went on a high-speed car chase after the shooter and called the police. Langendorff said that the shooter “eventually lost control on his own and went off into the ditch” in the neighboring county. Langendorff continues:
“The gentleman that was with me got out and rested his rifle on my hood and kept it aimed at him [shooter], telling him to get out. There was no movement, there was none of that. I just know his brake lights were going on and off, so he might’ve been unconscious from the crash or something like that. I’m not sure.”
Fox5 reports that “law enforcement later found the suspect dead of a gunshot wound inside his vehicle.”
Kelley’s motive here is not yet known, but what we do know, is that this wasn’t his first crime. He was earlier court-martialed, and discharged from the U.S. Air Force, for assaulting his spouse and child. Before he was discharged he was in confinement for 12 months and reduced in rank.
A former classmate of Kelley, Lialonnie Leos, said he recently added her on Facebook, and that he “would share things about guns and Atheism on his timeline.”
The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, stated that he doesn’t “think the church was just randomly attacked. I think there’s a reason why the shooter chose this church.” There isn’t much information here, but we do know that his in-laws occasionally attended the church, but didn’t meet up that day. The motive could possibly be based on a mixture of hatred for Christianity and trouble with his in-laws.
President Donald Trump said during a news conference in Japan with the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that mental health was the problem here, not guns, stating that “This was a very, based on preliminary reports, a very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn’t a guns [sic] situation.” He also endorsed the local resident who used his own rifle to engage the suspect.