Gunman Opens Fire On Texas Congregation, More Than 2 Dozen Killed

Nov 6, 2017
Originally published on November 7, 2017 1:23 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Twenty-six people are dead, and dozens are injured after a lone gunman opened fire in a tiny Texas town. His target was the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs during Sunday prayer. The gunman fled and was found dead in a neighboring county. NPR's John Burnett joins us now. Hey there, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Now, it, of course, is going to take some time for investigators to sort through conflicting information, conflicting eyewitness accounts, but what is the narrative as we currently understand it of what happened?

BURNETT: So we understand that 11:20 yesterday morning there was the first active shooter call to the Wilson County Sheriff's Office down here southeast of San Antonio. That was during services at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The killer, identified now as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, left his car at a convenience store. He walked to the church, dressed all in black, wearing a tactical ballistic vest and carrying a Ruger assault-style rifle. He started firing at the church through the front walls and then entered the church and kept on firing. A nearby resident grabbed his rifle and engaged the shooter. At that point, the gunman gets back in his car and races out of town, and then he runs off the roadway at the county line. And when authorities find him, he's in his car dead.

KELLY: And can you describe what the scene was like inside the church as this shooting broke out?

BURNETT: Well, one state trooper said the fatalities ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. I spoke with a woman who lives about two blocks from the First Baptist Church. She gave her name as Leslie Ward. She was on the front porch of their house last night. You could see the lights of the police cars, blue and red, blinking on their faces. She said that there were four members of the family of her husband's brother inside the church when the shooting started, and they ran in there after it all ended. She says their 8-year-old niece was killed; 5-year-old twins survived and their mother all survived with injuries. They're now in hospitals in San Antonio. Let's listen to Leslie Ward.

LESLIE WARD: The scene looked terrible. Everybody was bleeding, crying. There was dead bodies everywhere, babies. People trying to just get a hold of their family. Of course, their phones broke. They got, you know, shattered out and people just crying. They were just really, really bad off - disaster and blood everywhere.

BURNETT: She says they stayed with the casualties until the ambulances started taking them away.

KELLY: This is just a terrible scene that people there have lived through. What do we know about the gunman? You said he's been identified by law enforcement as Devin Kelley.

BURNETT: Right - white male. Sheriff said there's no motive yet. They found more guns in his vehicle. He lived in New Braunfels, which is just north of San Antonio, about an hour away from here. He's former Air Force. He was stationed at a base in New Mexico and had a troubled record in the military. He was court martialed in 2012 and served a year in confinement. In 2014, he was kicked out of the Air Force with a bad conduct discharge for assaulting his wife and their child.

KELLY: And, John, you're calling it a little town, Sutherland Springs. You were there last night. I mean, this is - to add to the grief, this is a really small town.

BURNETT: Yeah, fewer than 700 souls. It's so quiet in terms of crime. Some youngsters in their 20s I spoke with there remembered being in high school, and they all remember the one burglary that happened when they were living at home. It has one blinking light, a Dollar General, a convenience store, extremely close-knit, lots of people that are related to one another. And as you might expect, people say it's the last place on Earth they would expect an unprovoked, cold-blooded massacre like this.

KELLY: That's NPR's John Burnett. Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.