Gunman kills 26; former Victoria couple among victims

Nov. 5, 2017 at 10 p.m.
Updated Nov. 6, 2017 at 9 a.m.

Alexa Roberts, 17, right, finds comfort on the shoulder of Cody Shaw during the candlelight vigil held for the victims of the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. "We hear about it on the news all the time," Shaw said. "Never thought it would happen right down the road."

Alexa Roberts, 17, right, finds comfort on the shoulder of Cody Shaw during the candlelight vigil held for the victims of the shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. "We hear about it on the news all the time," Shaw said. "Never thought it would happen right down the road."   Nicolas Galindo for The Victoria Advocate

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS (AP) - A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding at least 16 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history.

Among the dead were Bryan and Karla Holcombe, formerly of Victoria. The New York Times reported their deaths based on an interview with their son, Scott, and daughter, Sarah Slavin. Friends in Victoria said Bryan Holcombe graduated from Victoria High in 1975 and Karla Holcombe in 1977.

"I'm dumbfounded," their son told the Times. "This is unimaginable. My father was a good man, and he loved to preach. He had a good heart."

The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.

Authorities didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials - one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement - identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.

The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

In a brief statement, the Pentagon confirmed he had served in the Air Force "at one point." Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said records show Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge. The date of his discharge and the circumstances under which he left the service were not immediately available.

At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the First Baptist Church around 11:20 a.m.

The gunman crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled. As he left, he was confronted by an armed resident who chased him. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line, Martin said.

Several weapons were found inside the vehicle, and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive for the attack.

He said 23 of the dead were found in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

Among those killed was the church pastor's 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town in two different states when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP.

"We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can."

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small rural community of a few hundred residents 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI's evidence collection team.

At least 16 wounded were taken to hospitals, hospital officials said, including eight taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center. Another eight victims were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center, located in Floresville about 10 miles from the church, including four who were later transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio for higher-level care, said spokeswoman Megan Posey.

Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone else in the sparsely populated county.

"This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town," Berlanga said. "Everybody's going to be affected, and everybody knows someone who's affected."

Regina Rodriguez, who arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting, walked up to the police barricade and hugged a person she was with. She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn't been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.

Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, wasn't at Sunday's service, but he said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, was among the dead.


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