Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old Texan, was wearing black tactical-type gear when he walked into the First Baptist Church during the small rural community's Sunday service, a witness said.
Authorities said he killed 26 churchgoers and would have killed more had it not been for a church neighbor who used a rifle to defend the church at 216 40th St., in Sutherland Springs. Authorities said the victims' ranged from age 5 to 72.
Frank Pomeroy, a pastor at the church who said he was in Oklahoma when the shooting happened, was mourning the death of his 14-year-old daughter Annabelle Renne Pomeroy.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said it was the largest mass shooting in Texas history. Authorities found 23 people dead inside the church. Two died outside of the church and one died on the way to the hospital. Abbott said he doesn't know if the number of dead will rise. Some of the 20 injured were in serious condition.
"We don't know names of any of the victims at this time," Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said adding that his priority was to notify the victims' families.
Authorities said the gunman, who they did not identify during the Sunday evening news conference, fired from both inside and outside of the church. After a church neighbor used a rifle to scare away the gunman, a driver followed him. The chase ended on the side of the road with the gunman dead.
The shooting "lasted about 15 seconds. I yelled 'Get down! Get inside!' and we all went into hiding," said Carrie Matula, a 49-year-old Sutherland Springs resident who was working at a gas station across the street when she heard the "rapid fire."
Kelley had recently showed off an AR-15 style-looking rifle on social media.
Matula said she also saw two helicopters land and ambulances. The helicopters took eight victims to the Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston. Abbott said San Antonio-area hospitals were also assisting with the injured.
Federal agents from the FBI's San Antonio field office and ATF responded to the church about 40 miles east of Downtown San Antonio. Texas rangers were also assisting Wilson County deputies with the investigation.
"To have such a violent act occur in a place of worship magnifies the pain," San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement.
The Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton described the shooting as horrific.
Outside of the church there were relatives in tears praying next to a car and dozens of residents were waiting for updates in an area outside of the yellow crime scene tape. Members of the neighboring River Oaks Church responded to support their neighbors with prayer and food.
Regina Rodriguez arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting and walked up to the police barricade. She hugged a person she was with. She had been at an amusement park with her children when she heard of the shooting.
She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn’t been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.
Nick Uhlig, 34, is a church member who didn’t go Sunday morning because he was out late Saturday night. He said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, is among the dead. He said he hadn’t heard specific news about the other.
It is likely that there is video of the shooting. The church published 165 videos of their services on their YouTube channel since 2014.
In the most recent service, posted Oct. 29, Frank Pomeroy parked a motorcycle in front of his lectern and used it as a metaphor in his sermon for having faith in forces that can’t be seen, whether it be gravity or God.
“I don’t look at the moment, I look at where I’m going and look at what’s out there ahead of me,” Pomeroy said. “I’m choosing to trust in the centripetal forces and the things of God he’s put around me.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said the shooting was another sign that more needs to be done on gun control.
"Nothing has been done to keep weapons of war off our streets or even to allow research on gun violence," Wassernman Schultz said in a statement. "The president and the congressional majority are failing our country."
During a speech from Japan, President Donald Trump denounced the shooting as an "act of evil" and said Texas has the "full support" of the federal government.
"Through the tears and through the sadness, we stand strong," Trump said.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on News | WPLG.