Last week a tiny town in rural Texas was thrust into the spotlight after a gunman stormed into the First Baptist Church killing 26 people and wounding many others. On Sunday, just one week later the church gathered to worship and mourn those that have passed so tragically. They were joined by hundreds of others lending their support and sharing their faith, praying for the small town of Sutherland Springs in their unimaginable loss.
The community gathered together publicly turning to God rather than casting blame, believing that there is a reason for all of this, even though it is not one they understand right now.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy shared his own personal heartache and a message of hope to the community that with the help of Jesus Christ they can move past the evil that attacked their church just one week ago. In an emotional sermon with his voice cracking as he wiped his eyes and spoke of his own 14-year-old daughter Annabelle who was among those lost, he stated –
“Rather than choose darkness as that young man did that day, we choose life. I know everyone who gave their life that day, some of whom were my best friends and my daughter. I guarantee they are dancing with Jesus today.”
The church initially planned to hold their Sunday memorial service at their local community center, however, it was determined a larger venue was needed once organizers discovered that hundreds were planning to attend to show their respect and stand with Sutherland Springs in their sorrow. As a result, the service was moved to a massive white tent erected in the local baseball field. The crowd was so large the tent’s side flaps had to be opened in order to accommodate an overflow crowd with many choosing to stand in the misting rain when they were unable to get a seat. It was the largest gathering in the church’s 100-year history.
Seats in the first three rows were reserved for survivors and the families of those killed. Congregants openly wept during the memorial service and sang a moving version of “Amazing Grace” as hundreds of voices sang along. Some bowed their heads offering prayer and others raised their hands in praise while tears streamed down their faces. Floresville High School – the local high school – also chose to play “Amazing Grace” during halftime to give tribute to the victims.
Sunday afternoon saw the First Baptist Church opened for the first time since the tragic and horrific events. Broken windows and ceiling tiles had been replaced and bullet holes filled. The church’s pews, carpet, and any equipment were removed. The inside had been painted completely white including the walls, floor, and the pulpit turning the building where so many lost so much into a chilling and somber memorial. 26 white chairs were set up to remember each person with a red rose tied to it except for one that had a pink rose for the unborn baby. Each victim’s name or nickname painted in gold.
Some members have stated they never wanted to step foot inside the building again, while others state they needed to see it for closure. Members have chosen to demolish the church and rebuild a new structure at a nearby location.
Gunman Devin Patrick Kelly stormed into the church last Sunday with an AR-15. He went aisle by aisle looking for victims targeting children and crying babies, shooting them at point-blank range – the dead ranged from an unborn child to 77 years of age with another 20 people wounded in the shooting. He was only stopped in his monstrous acts by another man, an NRA instructor, with a similar style rifle who chose to step up and shoot back following him from the scene being driven by another man where Kelley was eventually driven off the road and died.
Many believe this was a domestic dispute between Kelley and his mother in law who occasionally attended church services at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs but was not in attendance on the day of the shooting. The church states they have reached out to Kelley’s family and is praying with and for them as well.
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