A lone gunman opened fire inside a Baptist church in the US state of Texas, killing more than two dozen people, including the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor. The shooter was found dead in his vehicle.
The shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, during a church service on Sunday left 26 people dead and 20 others injured, according to police.
Speaking at a press conference, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the attack on the church about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of San Antonio was the “largest mass shooting in the state’s history.”
The man officials identified as the killer had been discharged from the Air Force in 2014 for assaulting his wife and child, according to an Air Force spokeswoman. Abbott described the attacker as “a very deranged individual.”
Police have been studying social media for posts made by the suspect in the days before the attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15-style semiautomatic weapon.
The lone gunman began firing shots outside the church while the morning service was in progress, armed with what police said appeared to be an assault rifle. Dressed entirely in black, tactical-type gear and wearing a ballistic vest, he then walked inside and opened fire on the worshippers, who authorities said were aged from 5 to 72 years old.
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Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told a press conference it was unknown whether the shooter killed himself or was shot dead by a local resident who had engaged him in the church and then pursued him by car. Martin said police did not shoot the gunman.
Pastor’s daughter killed
The dead include the 14-year-old daughter of Pastor Frank Pomeroy. He said he and his wife, Sherri, were out of town and not at the church service.
“We lost our 14-year-old daughter today and many friends,” Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to The Associated Press. “Neither of us have made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the Charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as I can.”
Witnesses said the morning church service was usually attended by about 50 people.
Emergency personnel quickly rushed to the scene, with some victims evacuated by helicopter.
Max Massey, a reporter for San Antonio’s local news channel KSAT, said Sutherland Springs residents gathered at the town’s community building awaiting news about their loved ones.
‘Act of evil’
Speaking in Japan on a 12-day trip to Asia, US President Donald Trump described the shootings as an “act of evil” in a “place of sacred worship.”
After expressing the heartbreak felt by the American people, Trump went to say the issue was not gun control, but mental health.
“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, but this isn’t a gun situation,” he said.
On Sunday evening hundreds of people, including Governor Abbott, gathered outside the church for a prayer vigil.
The mass shooting comes just over a month after a gunman in Las Vegas fired down from a hotel room on a concert crowd, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds more.
The shootings quickly reignited a decadeslong national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to more atrocities.
Among those to comment on social media was Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said: “How many more people must die at churches or concerts or schools before we stop letting the @NRA control this country’s gun policies?”