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2017-NOV to 2018-JUN: Mass shootings in U.S. Churches:

Mass Murder & Injuries in
Sutherland Springs, TX (Cont'd):

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This topic is continued here from a previous essay

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2017-NOV-05: About the shooter and the mass murder:

Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, has been charged with the shooting in the First Baptst Church, that killed 26 adults, children, and one fetus. Twenty adults and children were wounded. He had been a member of the U.S. Air Force at Holloman Airforce Base in New Mexico. Kelley had been court martialed in 2012 and charged with an alleged assault on his wife and child during which his child's skull was fractured. He was involuntarily sent to a mental health facility in New Mexico, from which he escaped. He also made death threats against superior officers. 9 He had confessed to multiple assaults on his former wife and son. He was found guilty of the assaults and served a 12 month jail sentence in an Air Force brig. Kelly was reduced in rank, and given a bad conduct discharge in 2014. Unfortunately, the Air Force neglected to pass the record of Kelly's violence to a federal data base that has been established by the FBI to prevent persons guilty of family violence from obtaining firearms. As a result, when he later tried to buy assault rifles, he passed the manditory search of the federal data base, and was able to acquire them. 10

Both CNN and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have described the massacre as the worst mass killing in Texas ever. Abbot said:

"As a state, we are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history." 1

They are wrong. It is "only" the worst recent mass killing. Multiple massacres of Native Americans in Texas by settlers and the Army during the 19th Century each resulted in the deaths of many times this number. 2,3 However, this massacre did involve the greatest loss of life of any recent mass shooting in Texas. It also involved the greatest loss of life in the history of the U.S. for a church shooting.

Albert Gamez Jr., a Wilson County Commissioner, said:

My heart is broken. We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn't matter where you're at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this.

Dana Fletcher, who owns a business near the church said that Sutherland Springs is a:

"... very small [but] very tight-knit community. There's two gas stations, the church, a community center, post office, a Dollar General, a tire shop. That's about it."

After the shooting, survivors gathered in a community center adjacent to the church. One was David Flores, 26, who told CNN:

"My dad saw the gunman run into the church building and then he heard shots and saw people running. People [were] covered in blood and screaming. It was pandemonium everywhere."

When asked to describe the activity in the Community Center, he said:

"Looking around, it's very sorrowful. ... The pastors from all the local churches right now are just trying to console everybody. There were several children injured. I know three, personally, who are in critical condition." 3

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President Trump, who was in Japan at the time, on a tour of Asia, said:

"In tragic times Americans always pull together. We are always strongest when we are unified."

The following day, President Trump claimed:

"I think that mental health is a problem here. Based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a very long period of time.

We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation ... we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon ... Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.

This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very sad event … these are great people at a very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it." 16

On NOV-07, President Trump was asked about more stringent gun control laws. He responded:

"If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three [sic] days ago and you might not have had that very brave person who happens to have a gun or a rifle in his trunk. 17

He then contradicted himself by saying that if 'Good Samaritan' Stephen Willeford had not had a gun,

"... instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead."

Senior Texas Senator John Cornyn (R) tweeted that the news was:

"... truly heartbreaking. Please say a prayer for First Baptist congregation, first responders, and the community there."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued a statement saying:

"While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation, Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act. I want to thank law enforcement for their response and ask that all Texans pray for the Sutherland Springs community during this time of mourning and loss."

Interviewed on CBS, he said:

"I think the bottom line is, this was not a random act of shooting. I don't think this church was picked out at random. I think there was purpose and intent that Devin Kelley had in showing up at this particular location. ..."

"I can tell you that before he made this purchase, he tried to get a gun permit in the state of Texas and was denied that permit. And so under the current system of federal law, he should have [been] prevented from being able to make this purchase. How that got through the cracks, I don't have that information, but it's important to understand these are the types of facts and issues that investigators continue to look into, and we will be able to have clear answers to those questions in the coming days."

When asked about whether the government can prevent such violence in the future by keeping weapons out of the hands of unstable, violent people, he said:

"I'm going to use the words of the citizens of Sutherland Springs themselves, and that is, they want to work together for love to overcome evil, and you do that by working with God."

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What was Kelley's motivation?:

Freeman Martin, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said that Kelley had been sending threatening messages to his mother-in-law. She was a member of the church, but was not in attendance on SEP-05.

Martin, said:

"This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs. There was a domestic situation going on within the family and the in-laws."

Further investigation has revealed that Kelley recently had extensively searched the Internet for stories on mass shootings.

Investigators have:

"... emphasized that the shooting did not appear to be fueled by racial or religious issues, as has been the case with other rampages at U.S. houses of worship. Instead, they pointed to the gunman’s issues with his relatives, saying that Kelley had been sending 'threatening texts' to his mother-in-law ..." 4

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Fake news on the Internet about the incident:

Some fake news web sites started to circulate myths about the Sutherland Springs massacre. One common theme was that the shooter was connected to the Antifa anti-fascism movement. Snopes.com, a web site that exposes fake news sources, said that one web site falsely reported that Kelley:

"... vowed to start a civil war by 'targeting white conservative churches' and causing anarchy in the United States.

Devin Kelley, who killed at least 27 people and injured many more, was one of two shooters in the church, according to eyewitnesses, who also report Kelley carried an Antifa flag and told the churchgoers 'this is a communist revolution' before unloading on the congregation, reloading several times." 5

Only the name of the shooter and the reloading phrase were accurate. The rest was imaginary rambling.

On a second occasion, Snopes reported the posting on Facebook of a photograph alleging to show the church shooter at a Bernie Sanders rally holding a Bernie 2016 sign and wearing a "Bernie" T-shirt. It also is fake. 14

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2017-NOV-12: Aftermath one week later:

Governor Haslam proclaimed Sunday, NOV-12 as a statewide day of prayer. The sanctuary of the First Baptist Church was reopened that day. It had been cleaned up and its interior was painted. It is currently a memorial to the men, women, children, and an eighth-month-old fetus who were killed there. 6

 7

Pastor Pomeroy delivered a brief sermon in a large tent that had been erected in a nearby baseball field. The future of the existing sanctuary building has not yet been decided. He saId:

"We have the power to choose, and, rather than choose darkness as that young man did that day, we choose life. ... I know everyone who gave their life that day. Some of whom where my best friends and my daughter. I guarantee they are dancing with Jesus today." 8

Mike Ebert is NAMB's executive director of public relations. He said that this thought reflects Pomeroy's:

"... big encouragement not to let one moment of evil that took place, one moment of darkness, win the day."

Mitch Kolenovsky is a Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (SBTC) field ministry strategist, He said that Pomeroy:

"... spoke to that crowd as if they were his congregation on a Sunday morning. He poured out his love for them, shared with them his commitment to the community ... He got several ovations during that time."

More than 500 people attended. Future church meetings will be held in a temporary structure on church property.

The Southern Baptists' North American Mission Board (NAMB) has offered to supplement existin victim's compensation funds, if needed, to cover funeral expenses. 9,13 The SBTC website has provided a portal for donations to fund "the needs of the church, pastor, church members and community." 10

By mid November, eight shooting vicims still remained in hospitals in the San Antonio area, and were in good to critical condition. 11 Army Col. (Dr.) Kurt Edwards at Brooke Army Medical Center said that the seven patients there are "... all getting better."

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2018-MAR-05: Conspiracy theorists accused of harassing church shooting survivors:

Some conspiracy theorists have asserted that the killings at Southerland Springs never happened. They believe that it and simlar mass murders were staged by the government as a Homeland Security drill.

Robert Ussery, 54, allegedly arrived in the First Baptist church and threatened to hang the pastor. He demanded proof that the shooting actually happened. He was arrested along with Jodie Mann who had accompanied him. Ussery has allegedly been charged with trespassing, making terroristic threats, and resisting arrest. Ussery has allegedly been charged only with trespassing.

Sherri Pomeroy, the wife of the pastor, said that Ussery:

"... taunts people on the internet and in person. He says, 'Produce me a death certificate,' like we have to prove something to him. He was spouting all this hatefulness." 15

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2018-MAR-27: Update to the Sunderland Springs church shooting:

Almost five months after the most serious church shooing in U.S. history, the congregation is planning to build a new church. Pastor Frank Pomeroy unveiled the plans at a news conference. Lauren McGaughy, writing for the Dallas News, said:

"The site will include a worship center and a memorial tower featuring a bell from the original First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, which for now will remain standing next to the new church as a memorial to those who died. ..."

Pomeroy said:

'We are in the midst of a celebration week. This is the week leading up to Easter. ... And what better way to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord than the resurrection of a new church? ... God is going to use the blood of those 26 martyrs and those survivors to bring forth revival into the land. Any time the church was persecuted, then God backed that up with a magnification or a multiplication of his people'."

Construction will begin on 2018-MAY-05, the six-month anniversary of the shooting. The first phase is expected to be completed in early 2019. 18

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2018-JUN-10: A couple who lost many family members in the Sutherland Springs mass murder has sued the federal government:

Joe and Claryce Holcombe filed a suit in San Antonio, TX federal court against the federal government.

Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 adults, children, and one fetus at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. He also wounded twenty adults and children. About a third of the fatalities were members of the Holcombe family, including John Bryan Holcombe, the plaintiffs' son. The lawsuit blames the military for negligence because they failed to record information in a national database about the criminal activities of the shooter -- Devin Patrick Kelley -- while he was in the Air Force.

The data base is used by retail outlets that sell guns and rifles to do background checks on potential customers. If Kelley had been properly listed, then it is very unlikely that he would have been allowed by the store to purchase the assault rifle that he used to commit the murders and injuries.

The couple's attorney, Rob Ammons, said: "We think this entire tragedy could have been avoided. ... The Air Force didn’t do its job."

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2018-JUN-28: Autopsy released on the death of Devin Patrick Kelley:

The autopsy stated that Kelley died of suicide via a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had marijuana and anti-anxiety drugs in this system at the time.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. German Lopez and Karen Turner, "Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting: what we know," Vox, 2017-NOV, 06, at: https://www.vox.com/
  2. Madison Park and Holly Yan, "Texas church shooting leaves 26 dead, including 8 members of one family," CNN, 2017-NOV-06, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  3. Dakin Andone, Kaylee Hartung & Darran Simon, "At least 26 people killed in shooting at Texas church," CNN, 2017-NOV-06, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  4. Eva Ruth Moravec and Mark Berman, "Texas church gunman, able to buy guns due to Air Force mistake, was having ‘domestic dispute’ with family," Washington Post, 2017-NOV-06, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  5. David Mikkelson, "Was the Texas Church Shooter an Antifa Member Who Vowed to Start Civil War?," Snopes, 2017-NOV-05, at: https://www.snopes.com/
  6. Erik Ortiz, "Texas Counted a Fetus as a Church Shooting Victim — That’s Not Unusual," NBC News, 2017-NOV-12, at: https://www.nbcnews.com/
  7. "Texas church becomes a solemn memorial a week after shooting massacre " Washington Post, 2017-NOV-13, at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
  8. "Texas Church Holds First Service Since Mass Shooting," TIme, 2017-NOV-12, at: http://time.com/
  9. David Roach, "Sutherland Springs: Worship resumes with call to overcome," Baptist Press, 2017-NOV-13, at: http://www.bpnews.net/
  10. Kay Adkins, "SBTC giving options to care for Sutherland Springs," 2017-NOV-08, at: http://texanonline.net/
  11. "Funeral for 8 family members killed in Texas church mass shooting brings out 3,000 mourners," The Star, 2017-NOV-15, at: https://www.thestar.com/
  12. Elaine Sanchez, "BAMC trauma chief praises medical response to Sutherland Springs shooting," Joint Base San Antonio, 2017-NOV-14, at: http://www.jbsa.mil/
  13. "Is The Southern Baptist Convention Covering Funeral Costs for Sutherland Springs Victims?," Snopes, 2017-NOB-07, at: https://www.snopes.com/
  14. Kim LaCapria, "Does an Image Depict the Texas Church Shooter at a Bernie Sanders Rally?," Snopes, 2017-NOV-15, at: https://www.snopes.com/
  15. Sam Levin, "Conspiracy theorists arrested for alleged threats at site of Texas church shooting," The Guardian, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  16. " 'This isn't a guns situation,' says Trump after Texas church shooting," The Guardian, 2016-NOV-06, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  17. "Trump says tougher gun laws would have made Texas church shooting worse," The Guardian, 2017-NOV-07, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  18. Lauren McGauchy, "Sutherland Springs unveils new church plans, with shooting site standing for now as memorial," Dallas News, 2018-MAR-28, at: https://www.dallasnews.com/
  19. Ryan Tarinelli, "Lawsuit: Government negligent in Texas church massacre," Religious News Service, 2018-JUN-10, at: https://religionnews.com/
  20. "Autopsy confirms Texas church gunman died by suicide," Associate Press News, 2018-JUN-29, at: https://apnews.com/

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Copyright © Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2017 & 2018
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2017-NOV-07
Latest update: 2018-JUN-29
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