Victoria residents recall Sutherland Springs shooting victims

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Nov. 6, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.

Ramiro Vidal, left, Renard Mccann, both of San Antonio, pray outside  First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after the shooting. "I'm happy that everybody is still coming together and not letting evil win," Vidal said.

Ramiro Vidal, left, Renard Mccann, both of San Antonio, pray outside First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs after the shooting. "I'm happy that everybody is still coming together and not letting evil win," Vidal said.   Nicolas Galindo for The Victoria Advocate

Andrew Alvarez grew up without a father and learned values that Bryan and Karla Holcombe instilled in him to be a good husband and father to his 8-month-old son, Benjamin Gray Alvarez.

Alvarez, 33, of Victoria, was in a Christian band with the Holcombes' son, Scott, and stayed with them for two years when he was in his early 20s. The entire band referred to the Holcombes as "Mom and Dad," Alvarez recalled.

"Their spirit is going to live on," he said Monday. "I want to show (my family) I am a good man because of Bryan instilling his father figure in me even though I'm not his son through the blood line ... He showed me how to be the right kind of man."

A gunman identified by officials as Devin Kelley opened fire Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and injuring another 20 churchgoers.

Bryan Holcombe, who was a guest pastor that day, and his wife, Karla Holcombe, were among those killed. Eight of the dead were members of the Holcombe family.

The Holcombes opened their arms and took Alvarez under their wing when he stayed with them in their rural home between Floresville and Sutherland Springs.

"The band as well - they loved every one of us," he said. "When I found out (about the shooting), I called my mom and cried for a long time. I didn't know how to react to it. It was one of those things in a small little town you wouldn't think (would happen). Now this thing is becoming a trend."

The couple supported the band, A Letter From Yesterday, strongly and would help book shows at churches and other venues for them, Alvarez said.

"We started practicing every day at Scott's house right in the center of the living room, and that's where we would have practice all crazy hours of the night," he said. "We even started recording a demo CD in the living room."

The couple was quite the loving pair, Alvarez said, and others could see their joy of being together radiating from each of them.

High school sweethearts

Barbara Sweet, 58, of Victoria, attended Victoria High School with the couple and was best friends with Karla Holcombe - known then as Karla Plain - during her school years. The couple was together for all of high school, if not longer, Sweet said, and got married right after Karla graduated in 1977. Bryan graduated in 1975.

"They stuck together - never had a hiccup in their relationship. They got married right after high school and stayed happily married - the two bestest, nicest sweetest people," Sweet said. "She and Bryan were well-suited for one anther. They were probably the strongest couple I have ever known in my life."

The couple helped Sweet through a volatile situation and a personal crisis in high school. They helped get the situation corrected and information to law enforcement.

"I confided something in her, and Bryan told the right people," she said. "I probably would have never done that. Those were two who cared enough to take it up with people."

Throughout high school, Sweet told Karla that she would be her maid of honor in her wedding, which was in 1982. The friends kept in contact throughout the years after the couple moved north to the Floresville area but never got the chance to catch up in person.

"She was the kind of friend that was going to be there sticking by your side either thick or thin," she said. "When we started chit-chatting back and forth on Facebook, it was as if not a day had gone by that we had not seen each other. She was always there, a good listening ear."

During the past two days, Sweet said she has had a gut-wrenching feeling that won't leave because of the tragic incident.

"I guess that's what shock feels like," she said. "I have never known anyone in my lifetime that has been murdered."

'Mad at the world'

David Lentz, of Victoria, said the tragedy in Sutherland Springs is the closest that a shooting has touched his life.

"What happened was, when I heard Sutherland Springs, I said to my wife, 'I haven't talked to Bryan in years, but we need to find out if he is OK,'" Lentz, 72, said. "I'm just mad at the whole world right now."

Lentz is living in the house that Bryan Holcombe grew up in. He bought the house from Holcombe's parents in the 1980s.

He befriended Bryan Holcombe when he visited the sold house to fix a ceiling. Although he did not know Karla Holcombe well, she babysat for him in 1984.

"It had to have been Bryan's personality," Lentz said about their friendship.

Holcombe was interested in riding bicycles, and the two once planned a ride before Thanksgiving dinner to work up an appetite, Lentz said. He also ran a repair shop in his driveway and made money fixing bicycles.

He has been trying to contact Holcombe's family since the shooting, he said.

"I want to do something," he said. "But, I don't know what to do."

His attention is going to shift to organizations that are bringing about change, Lentz said.

"I can't believe there is any reason for anyone to be owning an assault rifle," he said. "I know that will make people in Texas unhappy, but I can't see any reason why anyone should have one."

Strong in faith

Robert Talbott always knew Bryan Holcombe as "Red," an outgoing, hard worker.

"He had bright red hair and a big red beard," said Talbott, owner of Daniel Awning and Tarp.

He met Holcombe in 1988 when he bought the business from the original owner. Holcombe was an employee of Daniel Awning and Tarp.

"He learned from the master," he said about Holcombe's skill. "He was the type of person that if I said come down here tomorrow, he would have done it."

Holcombe's specialty was making stock trailer tarp, Talbott said. He also had a shop in Floresville.

When he first learned about the shooting, Talbott didn't realize it was Holcombe's church, he said.

"I was shocked, I didn't know what to think," he said. "I'm still kind of in shock."

Sweet said the couple was dedicated to their faith and she looks forward to seeing them in heaven again one day.

"They continued to do that (be strong in their faith) all their life and just loved it," she said. "She and Bryan had a good sense of humor between the two of them - they always found the happy things. I know it's all because they loved Jesus, and He was No. 1 in their life."

Victoria Advocate reporters Gabriella Canales and Jon Wilcox contributed to this report.


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