Tragedy struck the “one-blinking-light town” of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday when a gunman entered a local church during its morning service and killed multiple people. The lone suspect was armed with an assault rifle and dressed in tactical gear when he opened fire at the church, leaving 26 people dead and around 24 more injured.
Among the victims of the mass shooting are three generations of the Holcombe family. As The Washington Post reports, a total of eight Holcombe family members were gunned down in the attack, as well as an unborn baby.
The family members who lost their lives were Bryan Holcombe—the church’s guest preacher—his wife Karla, their pregnant daughter-in-law Chrystal, and three of Chrystal’s five children, Emily, Meghan, and Greg. While Chrystal, who was eight months pregnant at the time tragically lost her life and unborn baby, her two other children and husband John made it out alive.
John’s brother Marc Daniel Holcombe, and his one-month-old daughter Noah were also shot dead.
When the gunman first entered the church and began to open fire, preacher Bryan was on his way to the pulpit to lead the congregation. He and Karla had been married for 25 years. Speaking to The Daily Beast, family friend Gil Waguespak paid his respects to the Holcombe family.
“You didn’t have to worry about Bryan just randomly preaching to you. That was not him,” Waguespak said. “More like a gentle listener with a heart the size of Texas.”
Friend James Hoffman added: “No doubt if he were here right now Bryan would grab that shooter and say how much he loved him and take him in and show him that love firsthand”.
Among the victims was the 14-year-old daughter of the First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy. The pastor told ABC News that his daughter Annabelle lost her life in the shooting and recounted: "She was one beautiful, special child".
Local law enforcement sources have identified the shooter as 26-year-old Devin P. Kelley.
Days before the mass shooting, Kelley posted a chilling photograph of an assault rifle with the caption "She’s a bad b***h” on his Facebook page, The Daily Beast reports.
After opening fire, the gunman fled the scene. Police have confirmed that after a short pursuit he is now dead. Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr. explained that it wasn't clear whether he was killed by police or killed himself.
“You never expect something like this,” Gamez said. “My heart is broken.”
Sutherland Springs is a small rural community, with local resident Joseph Silva telling the Times, “there is a gas station and a post office… that’s about all there really is.”
On Twitter, Texas Governor Greg Abbott shared his condolences to the victims of the horrific mass shooting. He tweeted: "Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act. Our thanks to law enforcement for their response."
At this stage the gunman’s motives are unclear.
A GoFundMe has been created for the Holcombe family. You can donate here.