A gunman killed at least 26 people and injured about 20 others at a Texas church Sunday morning in what Gov. Greg Abbott called the largest mass shooting in state history.
But it’s still unclear what motivated the gunman — and how he managed to get a rifle.
At one point, the shooter tried to get a license to carry a gun in Texas but was denied by the state, Abbott said, citing the director of Texas’ Department of Public Safety.
“So how was it that he was able to get a gun? By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun,” Abbott told CNN. “So how did this happen?”
How the attack unfolded
Around 11:30 a.m. local time, a man dressed in all black exited a vehicle and started firing a rifle outside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a Texas community of a few hundred people about 30 miles of San Antonio, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.
The gunman then entered the church, where services were underway, and continued to fire, officials said.
Eventually, as the gunman was leaving the church, a local resident armed himself with a rifle “and engaged” the shooter, said Freeman Martin of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Martin did not he provide details about the engagement, but said the killer dropped his gun — a Ruger AR “assault-type rifle” — and fled with the resident in pursuit.
The shooter drove north into neighboring Guadeloupe County, authorities said. Just across the county line, law enforcement officers found him dead inside his vehicle with a gunshot wound, Martin said.
Wilson county Sheriff Joe Tackitt said it appears that the gunman suffered gunshot wounds from a civilian and then shot himself as well. Authorities are waiting for a coroner to determine which wound killed the gunman.
The shooter and the investigation
The church attacker was identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley of New Braunfels, Texas.
Martin said the shooter dressed in all-black “tactical-type gear” and was wearing a ballistic vest. He said the gunman had multiple weapons inside the vehicle.
Tackitt said Kelley was armed with two weapons, an assault rifle and a handgun. But the sheriff said he did not know if the handgun was used inside the church.
Kelley was a former member of the US Air Force. He served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico starting in 2010, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.
Kelley was charged in military court in 2012 on suspicion of assaulting his spouse and their child, Stefanek said. Kelley received a bad conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months, and was demoted to E-1, or airman basic, she said.
Kelley purchased the gun he used, a Ruger AR-556 rifle, in April 2016 from an Academy Sports + Outdoors store in San Antonio, a law enforcement official told CNN. He listed an address in Colorado Springs, Colorado, when he bought the rifle, the official said.
When Kelley filled out background-check paperwork at the store, he checked a box to indicate he didn’t have any disqualifying criminal history, the official said.
There was no disqualifying information in his background check, a law enforcement official told CNN.
Of the 26 who have died, 23 were found dead inside the church. Two bodies were found outside. One person died after being transported to a hospital, Martin said.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy was out of town when the shooting occurred, but his daughter, 14-year-old Annabelle Pomeroy, was at the church and was killed, her mother Sherri Pomery said.
“We lost more than Belle yesterday, and the one thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is the fact that Belle was surrounded by her church family that she loved fiercely and vice versa,” Sherri Pomeroy said.
The church’s visiting pastor was also among the dead, Sheriff Tackitt said.
So were eight members of one family, a relative and a community leader said. Those relatives span three generations and include a woman who was about five months pregnant and three of her children.
Many of the victims have not been publicly identified, pending notification of family members.
About 20 people were taken to hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to severe, Martin said.
Victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old, Martin said. It wasn’t immediately clear if that included just those who died, or all who were shot.
President Donald Trump condemned the shooting as an “act of evil” and called it “horrific.”
The President, who was in Japan, said the shooting was caused by a “mental health problem,” not an issue with gun laws.
“Mental health is your problem here,” Trump said, noting that “based on preliminary reports” the shooter was “a very deranged individual.”
“This isn’t a guns situation,” Trump said. “This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event.”
Abbott, Texas’ governor, said the state would mourn the dead and support their families.
“As governor, I ask for every mom and dad at home tonight, that you put your arm around your kid and give your kid a big hug, and let them know how much you love them,” Abbott said at a news conference Sunday evening.
US Sen. John Cornyn of Texas called the news “truly heartbreaking” in a tweet Sunday. “Please say a prayer for First Baptist congregation, first responders & the community there,” he said.
Abbott and others attended a vigil Sunday night at the Sutherland Springs post office.
“We have never had this happen before,” said Debra Morales, a volunteer coordinating relief efforts for victims’ family members. “It’s all just very upsetting.”