Thousands attend public memorial for slain family

Jon Wilcox By Jon Wilcox

Nov. 15, 2017 at 10:12 p.m.
Updated Nov. 15, 2017 at 10:35 p.m.

A motorcade leaves the Floresville Event Center after the Holcombe-Hill public funeral  Wednesday.

A motorcade leaves the Floresville Event Center after the Holcombe-Hill public funeral Wednesday.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

FLORESVILLE - Memories of life and love comforted the grieving hearts of thousands who gathered Wednesday for 10 family members slain in Sutherland Springs.

Almost two weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history, more than 3,000 people filled to capacity the Floresville Event Center, about 15 miles from the scene of the shooting, for a public memorial service.

Inside, the crowd shared prayer and stories celebrating the Holcombe family's happier moments.

The eldest slain members of that family - Bryan, 60, and Karla Holcombe, 58, graduated from Victoria High School in 1975 and 1977.

"You can always find some good. You can always find some life," said one woman who identified herself as the best friend of Tara McNulty, a 33-year-old victim killed in Sutherland Springs who was honored at the service.

Four of those memorialized, including McNulty, did not share the Holcombe name, but became part of the family through marriage and compassion.

McNulty was made an unofficial Holcombe during her childhood after the family learned she was growing up without a father. And the Holcombes loved her children as their own.

John Holcombe, husband of Crystal Holcombe, 36, addressed the crowd from a stage adorned in floral wreaths. The shooting claimed four of his children and wife, who was 18 weeks pregnant at the time of her death.

Three of those children shared the last name Hill, which they inherited from their mother's previous marriage with Peter Hill.

The Holcombes met at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and were married in 2012 after Hill's unexpected death from a heart-related illness.

Holcombe shared tears and sometime laughter with the crowd as he recalled what made each of his children special.

Greg Hill, 13, loved Star Wars, cooking for his family and participating in a 4-H robotics club, Holcombe said. The boy was imaginative and always smiling.

Emily Hill, 11, was a strong but compassionate girl who had a way with animals.

Megan Hill, 9, whom family sometimes referred to as "Megan Cuteness," was a delight with her sweet disposition. Holcombe recalled a story in which the girl made him a handmade ID card and sometimes required him to show it when entering their house.

Holcombe pulled that card from his wallet to show the crowd.

The couple's unborn child, Carlin Holcombe, was killed before a gender could be determined. John Holcombe said the child's name means "small champion," but the Hill children affectionately referred to Carlin as "Billy Bob."

With her husband, Crystal Holcombe raised those children with kindness and compassion, he said. She was famous within the family for her abilities with homemade cures and remedies as well as her recipe for a delicious sweet tea.

John Holcombe said his wife had a natural ability with bringing injured animals back from death's door. He said he sometimes gave her wilting plants to allow her the pleasure of returning them to health.

During the service, those close to the Holcombes also acknowledged Danny Holcombe, 36, his daughter Noah Grace Holcombe. The eldest slain Holcombes, Bryan and Karla Holcombe, were honored with readings of their favorite Bible verses.

Danny Holcombe was remembered as a man with a quirky sense of humor and appreciation for hard work. At 18 months old, his daughter was one of the youngest victims killed in Sutherland Springs.

Frank Pomeroy, pastor of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, took the stage last to offer spiritual encouragement to the crowd.

Bryan Holcombe was killed while acting as a guest pastor at the church Nov. 5. Although Pomeroy was traveling at the time, his 14-year-old daughter Annabelle Pomeroy was attending church and was killed.

Despite his own grief, Pomeroy advised those gathered to look to God for healing and to understand those killed awaited their reunification in heaven.

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning," said Pomeroy, quoting Psalms 30:5.


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