At least 26 people have been killed after a gunman opened fire at a church during Sunday services, officials say. The attack happened at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a town in Texas. The shooter has been identified as Devin Kelley, 26-year old from a town near San Antonio, who died in a police shootout trying to escape.
The gunman entered the church and opened fire at around 11:30 local time, local KSAT television reports. Witnesses heard at least 20 shots were fired.
About 50 people usually attend the service, locals said. Local media outlets reported that children were among the dead. The gunman died after a brief car chase into nearby Guadalupe County slightly to the north, a Sheriff’s Office deputy from that county told CNN.
It remains unclear if he was killed by police or killed himself, the spokesman said.
One witness, Carrie Matula, told NBC News: “We heard semi-automatic gunfire. We’re only about 50 yards away from this church. This is a very small community, so everyone was very curious as to what was going on.”
The pastor and his wife were out of town at the time, the pastor of neighboring River Oak Church said. Their 14-year old daughter is among the victims, according to the reports.
“We were in the middle of our church service down the road when we got phone calls from friends about this – and they said there was an active shooter at First Baptist Church. We had some first responders in our church, who immediately left and went down there. And then my church went to do what we do – we started praying, we knew the best thing we could do was stay out of the way,” Pastor Frank Pomeroy said.
Sutherland Springs is a small town with just a few hundred residents, which lies about 50km southeast of the city of San Antonio.
Deadliest mass shooting in Texas history
The San Antonio FBI branch said its agents had been deployed, and there was no indication of the gunman’s motive. The FBI also said that while only one shooter was reported, it was looking into other possibilities. Photos and video from the scene showed the area taped off by local law enforcement.
The shooting occurred on the eighth anniversary of the 2009 massacre of 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in central Texas. A US Army Medical Corps psychiatrist convicted of the killings is now awaiting execution, Reuters reports.
Today’s shooting comes just weeks after a sniper killed 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The shootings have stirred a years-long national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to the trend.
Texas governor Gregg Abbott visited Sutherland Springs, and described the shooting as an “evil act”.
Statement on shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX. pic.twitter.com/ffUbQgYdWD
— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) November 5, 2017
US President Donald Trump was briefed about the event in Japan, first stop during his Asia trip.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 5, 2017
Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, said in a statement: “The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Sutherland Springs as tragic reports come out of First Baptist Church. My office stands ready to assist local law enforcement as needed.”
Apart from condolences to the families, some of the politicians from the Democratic party called for more strict gun control.
To all who lost loved ones at Sutherland Springs: the nation grieves with you. We must find moral courage to address these senseless acts.
— Sen. Al Franken (@SenFranken) November 5, 2017
Senseless gun violence has torn apart another community — this time in a house of worship. When do we say enough is enough? https://t.co/gsW1KN54xc
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 5, 2017