At Least 26 Dead, Including Children, After Shooter Opens Fire on Texas Church Service
A shooter opened fire at a church in Texas on Sunday, the Wilson County Sheriff's Office confirms to PEOPLE
At least 26 people were killed and 20 more were injured after a gunman opened fire on Sunday morning at a church in Texas, authorities said. The rampage, which comes only weeks after a massacre in Las Vegas, interrupted a worship service and is now the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history.
The shooter, identified as 26-year-old Devin Kelley, a former Air Force member, was dressed in all-black tactical gear with a ballistics vest when he began firing from outside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs around 11:30 a.m. local time, during a service.
Authorities on Monday said the shooting stemmed from a domestic dispute, and that the shooter had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who attended the church. There is no terrorism investigation in connection with the shooting, authorities said.
Sutherland Springs is about 35 miles southeast of San Antonio.
After shooting from outside the church, the gunman then entered the church and continued to shoot his weapon.
When the gunman exited the church, a local resident engaged him in gunfire, authorities said. The suspect dropped his weapon and fled, with the local resident in pursuit.
A brief chase ensued into neighboring Guadalupe County, Texas, where the shooter was later found dead in his vehicle. It is unclear if he was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot wound or a gunshot wound he received while exchanging fire with the local resident, authorities said.
No victims’ names have been confirmed or released. Children were among the victims, who ranged in ages from 18 months to 77, authorities said at a Monday news conference.
Twenty-three people were found deceased inside the church, and two more were outside of the church. One injured victim died while being transported to a hospital, authorities said.
Of the 20 injured, 10 are still in critical condition, authorities said Monday.
“As a state, we are dealing with the largest mass shooting in the state’s history. There are so many families who have lost family members, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters,” said Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday.
“The tragedy of course is worsened by the fact [that] it occurred in a place of worship,” he continued. “We appreciate the first responders … who are continuing to try to give the community the answers they need and deserve.”
An Air Force spokeswoman tells PEOPLE that the shooter served at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, working in logistics readiness. He was stationed there from 2010 until he was discharged in 2014, following a 2012 court-martial on accusations he assaulted his spouse and their child, the spokeswoman says.
The shooter received a bad conduct discharge and 12 months’ confinement as well as a reduction in rank, the spokeswoman says.
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‘Just a Small, Rural Farming Community’
Ernest Hajek, a Wilson County commissioner, told PEOPLE that he knew several members of the congregation.
“This is just a small, rural farming community,” he said. “It isn’t really a town — a small church with 40 or 50 congregants at each service. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Hajek said that he visited the crime scene and saw several bullet holes in the windows and walls of the church.
Noting that he was formerly an investigator for the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office in San Antonio, Texas, Hajek told PEOPLE, “This is the worst mass shooting I have seen. I have seen other mass shootings but nothing like this.”
President Trump: ‘The Pain and Grief We All Feel’
Addressing the massacre from Japan, President Donald Trump said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and family of today’s attack,” adding, “This horrible act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of sacred worship.
“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.”
“But in dark times such as these, Americans do what we do best: We pull together. We join hands. We lock arms. And through the tears and the sadness, we stand strong,” Trump said.
Numerous other local, state and national officials have taken to social media to share their support and send condolences in the wake of the tragedy.
In an initial statement posted to Twitter, Gov. Abbott said, “Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act. Our thanks to law enforcement for their response. More details from DPS soon.”
Wrote Trump, “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.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also tweeted, “Keeping all harmed in Sutherland Springs in our prayers and grateful for our brave first responders on the scene.”