Monday, 6 November 2017

Texas church shooting: 26 people dead, including 8 members of one family

Names, faces and grieving family stories began to emerge Monday from the carnage at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas  — including eight relatives spanning three generations — even as investigators struggled to grasp why a lone gunman dressed himself in black commando gear and opened fire on the pews.

The death toll stood at 26 people and 20 wounded after Sunday’s massacre, but the figure could shift. Authorities initially reported the range in ages among the dead as between 5 and 72. A family, however, said a 1-year-old girl also was killed — part of a group of eight family members lost in the deadly spray from the attacker’s Ruger assault-style rifle.

The Washington Post reports that the gunman then came under fire from a local man and fled in car chase before running off the roadway, where he apparently took his own life.

“There was some gunfire exchanged, I believe, on the roadway also, and then [the gunman’s vehicle] wrecked out,” Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CBS News. “At this time we believe that he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after he wrecked out.”

The attack left a staggering hole in a Texas town of fewer than 700 people and, for some, reinforced a sense of unease that no place could be considered immune from possible violence after a concert ground in Las Vegas, a Walmart in Colorado, a Nashville church and a bike path in New York all became scenes of death and bloodshed over the past six weeks.

The attack was carried out by a 26-year-old former Air Force member who was court-martialed in 2012 and sentenced to a year in military prison for assaulting his spouse and child. The suspect, identified as Devin Kelley, was reduced in rank and released with a bad-conduct discharge in 2014.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Trump said he thought “mental health” was a possible motive. “Based on preliminary reports,” he said, the shooter was “a very deranged individual, a lot of problems for a long period of time.” Trump did not provide the basis for his statement, saying “it’s a little bit soon to go into it.”

“ . . . This isn’t a guns situation,”  he added. “Fortunately someone else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction” or it “would have been much worse.”

Sunday’s assault in Sutherland Springs appeared planned well in advance.

Witnesses said the gunman — dressed in all black and wearing a tactical vest — started shooting with an assault rifle as he approached the church. Police said the gunman killed two people outside before entering the church and spraying bullets at the congregation during morning worship in the country town about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio.

After the exchange of gunfire with an armed civilian, the gunman drove away with two local men in pursuit. It was “act now, ask questions later,” said the truck’s driver, Johnnie Langendorff. By the time they caught up with him, however, the fleeing man had crashed his SUV into a ditch. “He might have been unconscious from the crash or something like that, I’m not sure,” Langendorff told reporters.

“The local citizen pursued him,” said Freeman Martin, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety. “We don’t know if it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by our local resident who engaged him in a gunfight.”

The killings left massive and in some instances multigenerational gaps in some families. Joe and Claryce Holcombe lost children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all at once, a total of eight extended family members, the couple said in a phone interview with The Post.

Their son, Bryan Holcombe, 60, and his wife, Carla Holcombe, 58, were killed. Bryan was associate pastor for the church and walking to preach at the pulpit when he was shot, Joe Holcombe told The Post.

 Among the dead was also their granddaughter-in-law, Crystal Holcombe, who was pregnant. She died along with her unborn child and three of her children, Emily, Megan and Greg, according to Joe Holcombe. She had been at church with her husband, John Holcombe, who survived along with two of her other children.

Their grandson, Marc Daniel Holcombe and his infant daughter, who is about a year old, also died, Joe and Claryce Holcombe said.

Source:  The Washington Post

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