- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 5, 2017

A gunman wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest killed 26 congregants Sunday at a small South Texas church, fled after being shot at by a local man, and died a short time later as his car veered off the road and crashed.

The shooting, the worst in state history, left Texans stunned by the extent of the carnage and the unlikely location, a tiny First Baptist Church in the remote town of Sutherland Springs, population 683.

“As a state, we are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history,” Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press conference Sunday evening in Stockdale, Texas. “There are so many families who have lost family members: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

“The tragedy, of course, is worsened by the fact that it occurred in a church, a place of worship, where these people were innocently gunned down,” Mr. Abbott said.

The name of the gunman was not released by officials, but he was identified by multiple media outlets as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, Texas, who reportedly was court-martialed and received a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force in May 2014.

The Pentagon confirmed that Kelley had served in the Air Force “at some point,” and an Air Force spokeswoman said he had served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge.

Neither the Pentagon nor the Air Force provided details on the circumstances of the discharge.

About 20 people suffered wounds ranging from “minor to very severe” and were transported to hospitals. The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72, said Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

He said a man was seen at about 11:20 a.m. leaving a Valero gas station and heading to the church. He shot at the front and right side of the building before moving inside, where he continued to fire his weapon.

“As he exited the church, a local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect,” Mr. Martin said. “The suspect dropped his rifle, which was a Ruger AR assault-type rifle, and fled from the church. Our local citizen pursued the suspect at that time.”

The man crossed from Wilson County into Guadalupe County and “ran off the roadway and crashed out, and was found deceased in his vehicle.”

“At this time, we don’t know if this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by our local resident who engaged in gunfire,” Mr. Martin said. “We know he was deceased in the vehicle.”

He said the suspect, officially identified as a white man in his early 20s, had multiple weapons in the vehicle, which was processed by Texas Rangers bomb technicians.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said the shooting showed that such attacks can happen anywhere, even Sutherland Springs, located about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio.

“We all in here know what happened today, and we all say it doesn’t happen in small communities, but we found out today it does,” Sheriff Tackitt said.

Two of those killed were found outside the church, and 23 were discovered inside. One of the wounded later died at a hospital, Mr. Martin said.

Among those dead was pastor Frank Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter, according to ABC News and The Associated Press. The pastor and his wife, Sherri Pomeroy, were out of town at the time.

President Trump, who was in Japan at the start of a 12-day trip to Asia, called the shooting “horrific” and was dismayed that it occurred in a “place of sacred worship.” He said the “pain and grief we all feel cannot begin to imagine the suffering of those” who lost loved ones.

“Americans will do what we do best: We pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong,” he said at the top of a speech to U.S. and Japanese business leaders at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Tokyo.

He praised first responders in Texas and pledged that the administration would provide all the support necessary.

“All Americans pray to God to help the wounded and the families of the victims,” said the president. “We will never ever leave their side.”

Mr. Trump sent his condolences via Twitter, saying, “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.”

Liberals wasted no time in politicizing the tragedy.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and a hero to party progressives, wrote on Twitter that while she is “heartsick for the victims, families & community of Sutherland Springs … I’m angry.”

“How many more people must die at churches or concerts or schools before we stop letting the @NRA control this country’s gun policies? How many kids must die of gun violence on playgrounds & streets every day with no attention at all before we wake up to what’s happening?” she said.

“Thoughts & prayers are not enough, GOP. We must end this violence. We must stop these tragedies. People are dying while you wait,” she told her political rivals.

“Yes, I’m going to ‘politicize’ … the mass murder of 20 innocent people in Texas. Deal with it. #USGunBuyback #GunControlNOW,” added Scott Dworkin, a former Barack Obama campaign official and MSNBC commentator.

“One thing’s certain: If the NRA-owned GOP Congress does nothing — there’s nothing preventing mass shootings from happening again in America,” he said in a later Tweet.

Comedian Chelsea Handler went further and directly blamed Republicans.

“What country? America. Why? Republicans,” she wrote on Twitter.

As of Sunday evening, authorities had released no information about the shooter’s motive. If he was dishonorably discharged from the military, then he could not have legally owned a gun.

Kelley had posted photos of a semi-automatic weapon on his Facebook page, which has since been deleted. He once taught Bible school but also liked pages devoted to atheism, according to the Daily Beast.

His home was being searched late Sunday by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, ABC News reported.

“Everyone here wants facts, wants information about what’s going on, and we’d love to provide you more, but if you came here wanting to find the motive behind the shooting, you’re going to leave disappointed,” Mr. Martin said.

⦁ S.A. Miller contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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