At least 26 people were killed and 20 others injured when a gunman stormed a church in rural Texas with a rifle this morning, said Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Victims’ ages range from five to 72, authorities said.
The alleged shooter, a 26-year-old man, is also dead following the massacre in Sutherland Springs, about 40 miles southeast of San Antonio, bringing the total number of fatalities to 27, authorities said.
The shooter allegedly fled the scene in a vehicle and was later found dead in the vehicle in Guadalupe County, according to the sheriff and the Department of Public Safety. It’s not yet clear if he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by another person, officials said at a press conference this afternoon at Stockdale City Hall, near the church.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called this the largest mass shooting in Texas history.
14-year-old girl among the victims
Among those killed at the First Baptist Church was a 14-year-old girl named Annabelle Renee Pomeroy, according to her father, Frank Pomeroy, who is a pastor at the church.
Annabelle “was one very beautiful, special child,” Pomeroy told ABC News by phone.
Pomeroy said he was in Oklahoma this morning — a rare weekend that he wasn’t at the church.
The other victims are all close friends of his, he said.
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‘We heard several shots and we all started running’
A woman who said she works at a gas station across the street from the church told ABC News she heard rapid gunfire around 11:15 a.m.
Congregants fled the church and ran to the station cowering for cover, she said.
“We heard several shots and we all started running inside the store,” said the woman, who said she is 49 but declined to give her name.
“It lasted about 15 seconds,” she said. “I yelled, ‘Get down! Get inside!’ and we all went into hiding.”
Within minutes of the gunfire, emergency personnel arrived at the scene, she said.
She said the gas station locked its doors and has not reopened.
A church turns into a crime scene
Police formed a perimeter around the First Baptist Church and flooded its grounds with emergency and police vehicles, according to ABC affiliate KSAT-TV in San Antonio. Agents from the FBI and ATF have responded to the scene.
A small group of people were seen clustered together outside the small, white church, holding hands and attempting to pray, a KSAT-TV reporter said.
Paul Buford, a pastor at another church in Sutherland Springs, told KSAT-TV that his congregation was in the middle of their service at River Oaks Church when they started getting calls about the shooting.
Members of his church who are first responders rushed out while the rest of the congregation immediately started praying.
Authorities identified the shooter as Devin Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, Texas, which is about 35 miles from Sutherland Springs, federal and state law enforcement sources told ABC News.
The investigation into his background is unfolding. The suspect’s Facebook profile appeared to show a picture of an AR-15 –style gun. A LinkedIn account that is believed to be associated with the shooter suggested that he had a military background.
Trump and Texas officials react
President Donald Trump, who is in Japan, tweeted, “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas.”
Trump has been briefed “several times” and is continuing to receive regular updates, said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
Gov. Abbott said in a statement, “Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act. 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.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement, “The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Sutherland Springs as tragic reports come out of First Baptist Church.”
“Please join Angela and me as we pray for those impacted by this horrific shooting,” Paxton said.
3 church shootings in 3 years
The massacre in Texas is at least the third deadly shooting at a U.S. church in the past three years.
In June 2015, white supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black churchgoers during a Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In Jan. 2017, Roof was sentenced to death.
In Sept. 2017, a gunman allegedly stormed the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, fatally shooting a woman in the parking lot before entering the church sanctuary, shooting and wounding six people.
Last Sunday, Pomeroy delivered a sermon at the church, encouraging parishioners to “lean on the Lord,” even when circumstances don’t make sense.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely, or lean, on your own understanding,” he said. “You see God’s understanding is far greater and there may be things that are taking place that you don’t understand but you still need to do what God’s calling you to do.” [/restrict]