SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Kris Workman, paralyzed during the melee at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, is leading worship from a wheelchair for the rural Texas congregation.
Ryland Ward, age 6, came home from the hospital Jan. 11 after multiple operations for four wounds inflicted by the gunman who killed 26 people — including his mother and two of his sisters — at First Baptist on Nov. 5.
Ryland — riding in a fire truck in a police convoy — returned to Sutherland Springs after a two-month hospitalization in San Antonio, 30 miles away.
“There are so many people stepping up who want to help,” said Ted Elmore.
Churches across the state are providing help along with the firemen in San Antonio, the North American Mission Board, a San Antonio-based independent grocery chain and a leading roofing firm.
And certainly the people of rural Sutherland Springs and nearby communities are keenly involved despite the horrific losses suffered in their unincorporated community of 400 people.
First Baptist has formed a six-member restoration committee, including one member from a nearby town who was stirred to join the church after the massacre.
“That’s the nature of this community,” said Elmore, who participates in one or more conference calls each week with the committee and First Baptist pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter Annabelle was among the fatalities at the hands of Devin Kelley who committed suicide shortly after driving away from the church property.
“Life has been forever changed for these folks, but in spite of the deepest hurts, they have embraced and said, ‘The devil will not win,'” Elmore said.
Sutherland Springs rebuilds
NAMB is taking the lead in the construction of a new worship center and education building for First Baptist, along with a memorial garden. They have retained the firm of Myrick Gurosky & Associates in Birmingham, Ala., as general contractors.
“We think roughly it will be $1 million to $1.5 million,” said NAMB President Kevin Ezell.
“The construction company has worked with the church for free to come up with a design for new buildings and walked through it with pastor Pomeroy and the leaders they have appointed,” Ezell said.
Churches and individuals can donate at Sutherland Springs Rebuild.
The church memorial, with white chairs for each of the 26 victims in a white interior patched and painted to cover the bullet holes, is being staffed by volunteers from other area churches.
First Baptist, meanwhile, is meeting in a modular unit with 170-plus padded chairs. Workman, the worship leader, fronts a praise band made up mostly of survivors or family members of victims in the Nov. 5 gunfire — a band that Elmore said could lead music in lively and worshipful fashion anywhere.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s assistance to First Baptist includes providing Pomeroy’s salary for one year and a vacation for him and his wife for a time of healing later this spring and counseling as requested by those who lost loved ones as well as those who were wounded, along with their family members.
Also ahead is an appreciation banquet for first-responders requested by First Baptist, with Elmore and Kevin Cornelius, pastor of First Baptist Karnes, now in the planning stages.
“There’s no way you can repay the first-responders for what they did,” Elmore said. “Their work was monumental.” The gathering also will include grateful survivors and their families, with Elmore noting, “There’s great healing in an appropriate hug.”
Rallying to help
Among San Antonio-area businesses at the forefront of helping Sutherland Springs in the immediate aftermath of the killings were the H-E-B independent grocery chain founded by the late Howard Butt Sr. and the Beldon Roofing Company led by Brad Beldon.
H-E-B, through its Spirit of Giving charity, has built ramps for the injured at their homes that meet ADA standards and provided direct aid to survivors and family members of the deceased through donations made at check-out lines in their Texas stores.
Beldon took the lead in funding the restoration needed for the memorial and created a GoFundMe account that has raised $1.2 million from nearly 500 donors since setting an initial goal of $250,000 on Nov. 7.
Several other GoFundMe accounts have been created for the shooting victims, including one honoring 6-year-old Ryland Ward’s mother Joann and two sisters who also were slain, Brooke, 5, who died in her mother’s arms, and Emily, the middle of the family’s five children. In addition to Ryland, his father Chris and his oldest sister Rihanna, 9, survived.
To GoFundMe donors, the Ward family wrote, “You have made a difference in how these children will grow up and face a life without their mother and siblings.”
— by Art Toalston | BP