WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Catholic Church stands “in unity” with the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the larger community after a shooting during Sunday services took the lives of at least 26 people and injured at least 20 others.
Those who died ranged in age from unborn to 72 years old, and included 14-year-old Annabelle Pomeroy. Her father, the Rev. Frank Pomeroy, is pastor of the church but he was not at the service.
“We stand in unity with you in this time of terrible tragedy — as you stand on holy ground, ground marred today by horrific violence,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
With San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, “I extend my prayers and the prayers of my brother bishops for the victims, the families, the first responders, our Baptist brothers and sisters, indeed the whole community of Sutherland Springs.”
Law enforcement officials told CNN that a lone gunman entered the church at about 11:30 a.m. CST while 50 people were attending Sunday services. Almost everyone in the congregation was shot. Sutherland Springs is 30 to 40 miles southeast of San Antonio.
In a Nov. 5 statement, Archbishop Garcia-Siller asked for prayers for the families affected by the shooting. “Disbelief and shock are the overwhelming feelings; there are no adequate words. There can be no explanation or motive for such a scene of horror at a small country church for families gathered to praise Jesus Christ.”
“These Baptist brethren are our family, friends and neighbors who live among us in the archdiocese,” he added. “We are committed to work in unity with all our brothers and sisters to build peace in our communities; to connect in a more direct and substantial way. The Catholic Church in Texas and across the United States is with you.”
Archbishop Garcia-Siller added that the San Antonio archdiocese’s Catholic Charities “stands ready to assist and provide whatever services may be needed in this time of tragedy and will do whatever needs to be done.”
Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press the suspect was Devin Kelley, described as a white male in his 20s. He parked at a gas station across the street from the church, crossed the street and allegedly began firing as he walked toward the church and then continued firing once inside. He was wearing black tactical-type gear and used an assault weapon, AP said.
After he left the church, he was confronted by a local resident who had a rifle “and engaged the suspect,” AP said, quoting Freeman Martin, who is with the Texas Department of Safety. The suspect was later found dead in his vehicle some distance away. It was not clear if he died from a self-inflicted gunshot or from wounds suffered when the resident shot him.
His motive was not immediately known. He had been in the Air Force but was discharged for bad conduct allegedly for domestic abuse and served a 12-month sentence in confinement after being court-martialed in 2012.
“We ask the Lord for healing of those injured, his loving care of those who have died and the consolation of their families,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at churches while people were worshipping and at prayer,” he continued.
“We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society. “A culture of life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who Himself is peace, send us His spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture his peace among us all,” the cardinal said.