SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Christians ministering in the wake of what some have called the deadliest church shooting in U.S. history say they’ve witnessed “God at work” despite the 26 dead and some 20 others wounded at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Local pastors and leaders began providing grief counseling within hours of the shooting at First Baptist’s morning worship service Nov. 5.
First Baptist Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was out of town when the shooting occurred and whose 14-year-old daughter Annabelle was among the dead, told reporters the church’s tragedy will exalt Christ.
“Christ is the one who’s going to be lifted up,” Pomeroy said at a Nov. 6 news conference. “That’s what I’m telling everybody. You lean into what you don’t understand. You lean into the Lord … Whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding. I don’t understand, but I know my God does. And that’s where I’ll leave that.”
Pomeroy’s wife Sherri, who also was out of town during the shooting, expressed thanks for an “outpouring of love” by friends, community members and even strangers. She added that “as much tragedy as” Annabelle’s death “entails for our family, we don’t want to overshadow the other lives lost yesterday.”
“We lost more than Belle yesterday,” Sherri Pomeroy said. “One thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is the fact that Belle was surrounded yesterday by her church family that she loved fiercely, and vice versa. Our church was not comprised of members or parishioners. We were a very close family. We ate together, we laughed together, we cried together and worshiped together.
“Now most of our church family is gone, our building probably beyond repair and the few of us that are left behind lost tragically yesterday. … Please don’t forget Sutherland Springs,” Sherri Pomeroy said.
Sutherland Springs is a rural community, with many farmers and ranchers, oil and gas workers. The town sits about 45 minutes southeast of San Antonio, Texas.
The shooting began at approximately 11:20 a.m. local time, when Devin Kelley, 26, allegedly fired a semiautomatic rifle at the outside of the church building before entering and methodically firing at worshipers as he paced through the room, The New York Times reported.
Local Wilson County Sherriff Joe Tackitt said “nearly everyone” in the room “had some type of injury,” according to CNN. The dead ranged from an unborn baby in its mother’s womb and an 18-month-old to a 77-year-old, The Times reported. At least eight of the dead were members of one family.
When Kelley exited the church, he reportedly exchanged gunfire with a bystander and was pursued in a high-speed car chase by the bystander and another local resident, according to media reports. The chase ended when Kelley crashed his car, where authorities later found him dead.
Kelley allegedly shot himself at some point, The Times reported, but authorities don’t know if the self-inflicted wound caused his death. A “domestic situation” may have motivated the killing spree, according to media reports, and his ex-wife’s grandmother was among the dead.
Billy Graham Rapid Response Team also have crisis-trained chaplains there providing emotional and spiritual care in the small community.
“The evil at work in this tragedy is incomprehensible,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. “It’s impossible to understand what could drive a young man to do something so inhumanly cruel. While we don’t have all the answers, we will do everything we can to comfort the grieving and give peace to those in despair as we bring the hope of Jesus.”
Providentially, Frank Pomeroy’s comments to reporters following the shooting echoed remarks he made during a sermon the week before.
Preaching from Proverbs 3:5-6, Pomeroy, a motorcycle enthusiast, told of riding his Harley Davidson to church that morning with his daughter and compared leaning into turns with trusting God through life’s difficult times.
“God’s understanding is far greater” than ours, Pomeroy said according to a recording of his Oct. 29 sermon. “There may be things going on that you don’t understand, but you still need to do what God is calling you to do … Leaning into God is the way we should go, even if it does not make sense, like leaning into a turn.”
A community prayer gathering is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the football stadium at nearby Floresville High School.