Neighbors of Sutherland Springs suspect report hearing gunfire

Nov. 5, 2017 at 1:19 p.m.
Updated Nov. 5, 2017 at 8:13 p.m.

Carrie Matula embraces a woman after a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday. Matula said she heard the shooting from the gas station where she works a block away.

Carrie Matula embraces a woman after a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday. Matula said she heard the shooting from the gas station where she works a block away.   AP for The Victoria Advocate

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — The Latest on a shooting at a church in Texas (all times local):

7:50 p.m.

People who live near an address listed for the Texas church shooting suspect say they heard intense gunfire from that direction in recent days.

Sixteen-year-old Ryan Albers lives across the road from the listed home of suspect Devin Kelley. He says: "It's really loud. At first I thought someone was blasting."

He says "It was someone using automatic weapon fire."

Another nearby neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said he had also heard gunfire coming from across the street but couldn't be sure if it came from the property listed as Kelley's address. The neighbor added that the sound of gunfire is not unusual in the area given the seclusion and the big acreage of the surrounding properties.

Authorities say 26 people were killed and about 20 wounded in the shooting.

7:30 p.m.

A U.S. military official says the suspect identified in the mass shooting at a Texas church was a former Air Force member who was stationed in New Mexico at one time.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek says records confirm that Devin P. 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.

The Pentagon also confirmed that Kelley was an airman "at one point," but didn't provide additional details.

Authorities say 26 people were killed and about 20 others wounded in the attack in Sutherland Springs.

7:05 p.m.

More than 100 people gathered after dark on a grassy street corner within sight of the church where the shooting occurred for a prayer vigil.

Attendees, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, lit candles while some wept and others hugged Sunday night. They could see the church sign lit up and emergency lights flashing.

The vigil across the street from a gas station convenience store where law enforcement officials say the shooter stopped before the attack.

Mike Gonzales, who does not attend the church but lives near says: "The people of this church are wonderful people." Gonzales added, "We're coming together to pray for them and show the world that now, in the midst of darkness, there is light."

Authorities say 26 people were killed and about 20 wounded in the attack.

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7 p.m.

The Pentagon has confirmed the suspect identified in the mass shooting at a Texas church previously served in the Air Force.

In a brief statement, the Pentagon says Devin Kelley was an airman "at one point," but additional details about his time in the Air Force were not immediately available.

Authorities say 26 people were killed and about 20 others injured in the attack at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, 30 miles southeast of San Antonio.

___

6:45 p.m.

Two sheriff's vans were parked outside and police officers stood at the gate of a cattle fence surrounding the address listed for the Texas church shooting suspect, preventing a group of waiting journalists from entering.

Two officials who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity have identified him as Devin Kelley.

Officials from the Comal County Sherriff's Office and the Texas Rangers declined to comment Sunday evening, or to say if they had raided his home. A few minutes later, the gate opened and two Texas Rangers trucks pulled out.

The home is in a wooded area on the rural, western outskirts of New Braunfels, north of San Antonio. It is off a two-lane highway.

Authorities say 26 people were killed and about 20 wounded in the shooting.

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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 on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding about 20 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history.

Officials 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 — who were briefed on the investigation 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 doesn’t appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. The official said investigators are looking at social media posts Kelley may have made in the days before Sunday’s attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

At the news conference, Freeman Martin, the regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the attacker was dressed all in black, wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest, when he arrived at a gas station across from the First Baptist Church at around 11:20 a.m.

He crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, and continued after entering the building. 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. There were several weapons inside.

Martin said it’s unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflected 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 the dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. Twenty-three were found dead in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small community 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack to offer assistance, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI’s evidence collection team.

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

“We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends,” she wrote. “Neither of us have 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.”

The wounded were taken to hospitals. Video on KSAT television showed first responders taking a stretcher from the church to a waiting AirLife helicopter. Eight victims were taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center, the military hospital said.

Megan Posey, a spokeswoman for Connally Memorial Medical Center, which is in Floresville and about 10 miles from the church, said “multiple” victims were being treated for gunshot wounds. She declined to give a specific number but said it was less than a dozen.

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. Sutherland Springs has only a few hundred residents.

“This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town,” said Alena Berlanga. “Everybody’s going to be affected and everybody knows someone who’s affected,” she said.

Regina Rodriguez arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting and walked up to the police barricade. She hugged a person she was with. She had been at an amusement park with her children when she heard of the shooting.

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.

Nick Uhlig, 34, is a church member who didn’t go Sunday morning because he was out late Saturday night. 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, is among the dead. He said he hadn’t heard specific news about the other.

“We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday,” he said. “This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men’s Bible study, vacation Bible school.”

“Somebody went in and started shooting,” he said, shaking his head and taking a long drag of his cigarette.

President Donald Trump tweeted from Japan, where is his on an Asian trip, that he was monitoring the situation. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the shooting an “evil act.”

Sutherland Springs is in a rural area where communities are small and tight-knit. The area is known for its annual peanut festival in Floresville, which was most recently held last month.

“We’re shocked. Shocked and dismayed,” said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs. “It’s especially shocking when it’s such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving.”

Zaffirini said she had called several county and local officials but not been able to get through and didn’t have any firm details.

The church is a white, wood-framed building with a double-door at the entrance and a Texas flag on a pole at the front area. 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 was captured on video.

In the most recent service, posted Oct. 29, Frank 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 be 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.”


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