Authorities on Wednesday confirmed that Peggy Lynn Warden, a grandmother, sister, mother and devout Texan woman, was among those killed in Sunday’s church massacre.
“She was a woman of faith, not just in her church but in the way she lived her life every day,” her sister Leisa Kugler tells PEOPLE. “She was absolutely the most selfless person I’ve ever know.”
Warden, who grew up just five miles from First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was fatally shot when a 26-year-old gunman opened fire in the rural church on Sunday morning, killing 25 people and an unborn baby and injuring 20 more.
Kugler says Warden died shielding her eldest grandson, Zachary Poston, from the bullets.
Poston, 18, was shot six times but survived, according to Kugler. He is in and out of surgery in San Antonio, Texas.
Warden and her grandson were especially close, Kugler says, not only because he was her eldest grandchild but because the family lived together on a 125-acre farm.
“Zachary was always a precious, precious part of her heart,” Warden’s sister says. “I don’t doubt that she wouldn’t have given her life 100 times more to save him.”
The family farm, located a few miles from Sutherland Springs in La Vernia, Texas, was founded by Warden’s grandparents and was home to Warden and her brother and daughter, Zachary’s mother.
“We’re an extremely close family and not just in proximity,” Kugler says. “We’re all living where we grew up, the farmland — everyone built their home there because we wanted to be close.”
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A ‘Guiding Light’
In June, Christopher Warden, Peggy’s husband of more than 30 years, passed away from terminal lung cancer. Kugler says that in late 2015, when Peggy felt something was wrong with him, she told him to see a doctor. But Christopher refused — only agreeing to go if she would also have her breasts checked for cancer.
It was a fortunate thing that he insisted: Both Christopher and Peggy were diagnosed with cancer in early 2016. Christopher’s was terminal but Peggy’s was caught early on and was treatable.
She would later have a mastectomy. In the fall of 2016, she learned it was successful and she was on track to recover. But the next day, Christopher was admitted to hospice.
Still, he took solace in his wife’s future.
“He needed to know she was okay,” Kugler says. “He always said, ‘I needed to know she was okay.’ ”
“Christopher saved Peggy Lynn by him dying,” Kugler says. “She got to live — he kept her in this world long enough to save their grandson.”
Zachary and his grandmother leaned on each other during his grandfather’s final months. But Peggy never let her grandson see her down, Kugler says. She remained positive and continued to act as a “guiding light” for her family.
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At one point during the shooting, Zachary played dead as the gunman walked up and down the aisle shooting anyone who moved, Kugler tells PEOPLE. But the teen was shot once, when he moved his leg to push a little girl under one of the pews, she said.
“[The girl] was trying to crawl out, and Zachary feared if the gunman saw her he would shoot her. Because of his movement the gunman shot him, shattering his knee cap,” Kugler wrote on a GoFundMe page started to help with hospital expenses.
What exactly happened inside the church during the shooting is still becoming clear. But, Kugler says, when Zachary was able to speak again he told his family, “She saved me.”
As they grieve the loss of their loved one, Peggy’s family is staying strong for Zachary as he recovers, Kugler says. They have some comfort in knowing she lived her fullest life and died saving her grandson.
“It may not be understood, it maybe tragic or heartbreaking, but her death was part of the plan and that is absolutely what she would believe,” Kugler says. “I don’t think either of them would have done anything differently.”