An armor-clad gunman opened fire inside a rural Texas church on Sunday, killing more than two dozen people in the largest mass shooting in the state’s history, officials said.
Twenty-six people were killed during the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Sunday evening.
“We don’t know if that number will rise or not, but we know that’s too many and this will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain,” he said.
“We are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history,” he added.
The shooter is also dead, officials said.
Law enforcement officials identified the gunman on Sunday evening as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of neighboring Comal County. Officials were preparing to search his home. Texas officials would say on the record only the shooter was a “young white male.”
There was no immediate information on the reason behind the shooting, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackett said. Federal officials said that while the gunman’s motive was unclear, there were no obvious signs of a connection to terrorism.
“I never in a million years could of believed Devin could be capable of this kind of thing,” Dave Ivey, the shooter’s uncle, told NBC News. “I am numb. … My family will suffer because of his coward actions. … I am so sorry for the victims in Texas.”
Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, confirmed that Kelly was court-martialed in 2012 on two charges of assaulting his spouse and their child. He was confined for a year, reduced in rank to airman basic E-1 and given a bad conduct discharge in 2014, Stefanek said.
Dressed all in black and wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest, Kelly first began firing outside the church at around 11:20 a.m. local time (12:20 p.m. ET) before he continued his shooting spree inside, said Freeman Martin, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety. He was armed with a “Ruger AR assault-type rifle,” Martin said.
“We know the ages range from 5 years old to 72 years of age,” Martin said of the victims.
A local resident confronted the gunman after the shooting began, “grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect,” Martin said.
The gunman dropped the rifle and then fled with the resident in pursuit, he said.
As law enforcement responded, the suspect ran off the road in his car at the Wilson-Guadalupe county line and crashed, Martin said. The suspect was found dead in the vehicle.
“We don’t know if this was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by our local resident who engaged him with gunfire,” he added.
Police found multiple weapons inside the vehicle, he said.
Martin said that 23 people were found dead inside the church, that two were found dead outside the church and that another person who was transported from the scene had died.
Sherri Pomeroy, the wife of church pastor Frank Pomeroy, told NBC News in a statement that their 14-year-old daughter was among the victims. She said she and her husband were out of town in different states at the time of the shooting.
“We lost our 14-year-old daughter today and many friends,” she said. “Neither of us have made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation.”
Sandy Ward told MSNBC that four of her grandchildren and her daughter-in-law were inside the church. The youngest child, a 5-year-old, was in surgery, and her 7-year-old granddaughter died.
Ward was waiting with her son at a hospital for answers.
“He’s a wreck, of course, as you can imagine,” Ward said. “I’m just in shock.”
“I’m numb,” she added. “My whole body’s just numb.”
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, said on MSNBC that he did not believe the incident was related to terrorism but “was some kind of other incident that has to do with the church or the community.”
“It’s a rural community and a conservative [one], mostly farmers and ranchers and people who work out in the oil and gas patches,” he said, adding that the area was “very tranquil and very safe.”
Carrie Matula, who works at a gas station about a block and a half away, told MSNBC that she heard “semiautomatic gunfire” and looked to see what was going on.
“It’s a small Baptist church. It’s an older building. I don’t know that they would have security cameras or anything high-tech like that. And I know they didn’t have security in the parking lot,” she said.
“I never thought it would happen here,” Matula added. “This is something that happens in a big city. I would never have thought this would have taken place here. It’s just too tight a community. It doesn’t make sense.”
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said agents from Houston and San Antonio were responding to the scene.
Former President Barack Obama shared his condolences over Twitter.
“We grieve with all the families in Sutherland Springs harmed by this act of hatred, and we’ll stand with the survivors as they recover,” Obama tweeted. “May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.”
The church is a white, wood-frame building with a double door at the entrance and a Texas flag on a pole at the front area, according to its website, which was down shortly after the shooting. The website says the church schedule was for a fellowship breakfast on Sunday mornings, followed by Sunday school. A morning worship service was scheduled for 11 a.m. The first news reports of the shooting were between noon and 12:30 p.m.
The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting may have been captured on video.
In the most recent service, posted Oct. 29, Pomeroy, the pastor, began by speaking in front of a stage with two guitarists and a singer. A few children could be seen moving around and climbing onto the pews. Most people, including Pomeroy, were in jeans.
Pomeroy parked a motorcycle in front of his lectern and used it as a metaphor in his sermon for having faith in forces that can’t be seen, whether it is gravity or God.
“I don’t look at the moment. I look at where I’m going and look at what’s out there ahead of me,” Pomeroy said. “I’m choosing to trust in the centripetal forces and the things of God He’s put around me.”