A flood of support has descended on Sutherland Springs, Texas, in the aftermath of Sunday’s church massacre but the road to healing will take time.
People in this small community are numb with grief after a gunman stormed the First Baptist Church on Sunday, killing 25 people and an unborn child. They have walked along a memorial of crosses, comforted each other at vigils and soon they will attend funerals.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence met with the victims’ families, offering condolences and a message of hope.
“Faith is stronger than evil. No attack, no act of violence will ever make our spirit or diminish the faith of the American people,” he said.
The vice president said he and his wife, Karen, were humbled to “be with the precious families of the fallen and injured” from First Baptist.
“The faith in this community has inspired the nation. And not just the faith and courage of those we lost, but those who survived,” he added.
The grief in this small Texas town resonates 35 miles away in New Braunfels, where worshipers mourned the loss of 13 senior citizens who died when a church bus crashed in March.
“The community is going to see the scars of this event for years to come,” Pastor Brad McLean of the First Baptist Church of New Braunfels told CNN affiliate KXAN.
“There’s still a lot for them to deal with but I know that the Lord can help that community heal,” he added.
Church services will continue
Despite losing half its congregation in the shooting, which likely damaged the church beyond repair, First Baptist Church will host a service this Sunday at a community center next door.
Its members, often clad in T-shirts and jeans, have long been a stalwart of the community — helping feed the needy and clean up neighbors’ property after storms.
“They don’t have a lot of money, but they are always willing to give,” said Mike Clements, who pastors a nearby church.
Now, ministers from neighboring communities are teaming up to help organize First Baptist’s upcoming service.
‘A guy that just seemed miserable’
Days before Devin Kelley carried out the largest mass shooting in Texas history, he was working as a security guard at Summit Vacation Resort in New Braunfels. One family who encountered him recalled very negative experiences.
Chuck Jackson said Kelley got short with him after he asked whether his two young children could use the swimming pool.
“He was not normal. He was very weird,” Chuck Jackson told CNN affiliate KSAT. Jackson said Kelley appeared to be “a guy that just seemed miserable in life.”
“He seemed angry. He seemed annoyed by us, and he seemed like he wanted to exert some authority,” Jackson’s sister Elizabeth Nitz told KSAT.
Jackson and Nitz said their relatives at the resort all commented how creepy Kelley seemed.
But that’s only a piece of Kelley’s troubled past. Since the shooting, we have learned that he escaped from a mental health facility after sneaking guns onto an Air Force base and threatening commanders.
He also abused his former wife and former stepson, posted about his rifle and his affinity for mass shootings, and recently disturbed his neighbor for several mornings in a row with rapid-fire gunshots from his property.