Tue, Nov 07, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Attack on Texas church leaves 26 dead

COMMUNITY LEFT REELING:A white man clad in black tactical gear and a ballistic vest was already shooting as he entered the church. He was confronted as he left

AP, SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas

From left, Christopher Rodriguez, Esmeralda Rodriguez, Mona Rodriguez, Jayanthony Hernandez and Juanita Rodriguez on Sunday take part in a vigil for the victims of a shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, earlier in the day.

Photo: AP

A gunman dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a small South Texas church, killing 26 people in an attack that claimed tight-knit neighbors and multiple family members ranging in age from five to 72 years old.

Once the shooting started on Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, there was likely “no way” for congregants to escape, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr said.

Officials said about 20 others were wounded.

“He just walked down the center aisle, turned around and my understanding was shooting on his way back out,” said Tackitt, who said the gunman also carried a handgun, but that he did not know if it was fired.

Tackitt described the scene as “terrible.”

“It’s unbelievable to see children, men and women, laying there. Defenseless people,” he said.

Authorities did not identify the attacker during a news conference on Sunday night, but two other officials — one a US official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley.

They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

The US official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and did not appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups.

Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before the attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

Kelley received a bad conduct discharge from the US Air Force for assaulting his spouse and child, and was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement after a 2012 court-martial.

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 church, about 48km southeast of San Antonio, about 11:20am.

The gunman crossed the street and started firing the 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 11am service was scheduled.

As he left, the shooter was confronted by an armed resident who “grabbed his rifle and engaged that suspect,” Martin said.

A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line.

Federal agents, including the FBI’s evidence collection team, swarmed the small rural community of just hundreds of residents.

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 were not ready to discuss a possible motive.

The man who confronted Kelley had help from another local resident, Johnnie Langendorff, who told KSAT TV that he was driving past the church as the shooting happened.

He did not identify the armed resident, but said the man exchanged gunfire with the gunman, then asked to get in Langendorff’s truck and the pair followed as the gunman drove away.

Langendorff said the gunman eventually lost control of his vehicle and crashed. He said the other man walked up to the vehicle with his gun drawn and the suspect did not move. He stayed there for at least five minutes, until police arrived.

In Japan, US President Donald Trump said the US was living in “dark times,” but insisted Sunday’s tragedy “isn’t a guns situation.”

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