A gunman has opened fire at a church near San Antonio in Texas, killing more than two dozen people in the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history, officials say. The suspect fled the scene but was later found dead.
The incident happened at about 11:20 a.m. CT on Sunday when officers were called to reports of an active shooter at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a small community in Wilson County, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) southeast of San Antonio.
Freeman Martin, the regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the suspect was dressed in all-black, tactical-type gear with a ballistic vest as he exited his vehicle and opened fire. He then entered the church building and continued to fire with a semi-automatic rifle.
Dozens of worshippers were gathered at the church for a Sunday service.
A local resident who heard the gunfire grabbed his rifle and engaged the shooter as he exited the church, according to multiple witnesses. The suspect, who was later identified as 26-year-old Devin Kelley, dropped his weapon and fled the scene in his vehicle.
The citizen pursued the suspect until his vehicle went off the roadway and crashed in neighboring Guadalupe County. Deputies who responded to the scene found the gunman deceased of a gunshot wound, but it was not immediately clear whether he had killed himself or was struck by the citizen’s gunfire.
The Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed that at least 26 people were killed in the shooting, including 23 people who were found dead inside the church building, 2 people who died outside the church, and 1 person who died at a local hospital. The death toll does not include the shooter.
A number of children were reported to be among the victims, including a 7-year-old girl who was killed and a 5-year-old boy who suffered serious injuries after being shot four times. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was out of town with his wife, said their 14-year-old daughter was also killed.
In addition to those who died, at least 20 people were taken to area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to critical.
There was no immediate word on a possible motive for the massacre, which is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of Texas and the deadliest church shooting in modern U.S. history. Investigators said there is no indication that Kelley, who is from the city of New Braunfels, was linked to terrorism.
Kelley joined the U.S. Air Force in 2010 and served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. She said Kelley received a Bad Conduct Discharge and confinement for 12 months after being court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his spouse and their child.
Later, after being discharged from the Air Force in 2014, Kelley briefly taught at a summer Bible school. He does not appear to have had links to the First Baptist Church, although his mother-in-law is reported to be living in Sutherland Springs. It is unknown whether she was at the church at the time of the shooting.
“While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation, Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said. “I want to thank law enforcement for their response and ask that all Texans pray for the Sutherland Springs community during this time of mourning and loss.”
President Donald Trump, who is currently on a visit to Japan, condemned the attack and ordered the flag of the United States to be flown at half-staff until Thursday night.
“This horrible act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of sacred worship,” Trump said in a statement. “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 loved. Our hearts are broken.”
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