At least 26 people were killed and 20 others were injured when a gunman stormed a church in rural Texas with a rifle this morning, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt and the Texas Department of Public Safety said.
Victims’ ages range from 5 to 72, authorities said. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called today’s shooting in Sutherland Springs, about 40 miles southeast of San Antonio, the largest mass shooting in Texas history.
The alleged shooter, a 26-year-old man, is also dead after the massacre at First Baptist Church, bringing the total number of fatalities to 27, authorities said.
Here’s what we know about the shooting:
Tragedy at church
The attack began at about 11:20 a.m., after a suspect was seen at a Valero gas station in Sutherland Springs, dressed in all black, the Department of Public Safety said. The suspect crossed the street to the church, got out of his vehicle and began firing at the church, authorities said.
The suspect then moved to the right side of the church and continued to fire, before entering the church and shooting more, authorities said.
As the suspect exited the church, a local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged the suspect, after which he dropped his assault-type rifle and fled, authorities said.
A citizen pursued the suspect, authorities said.
The suspect, who fled in a car, crashed and was later found dead in his vehicle in Guadalupe County, according to the sheriff and the Department of Public Safety. It’s unclear whether he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound or whether he was shot by another person, officials said at a news conference this afternoon at Stockdale City Hall, near the church.
Multiple weapons were found in the vehicle, authorities said, adding that the suspect had tactical-type gear and was wearing a ballistic vest.
The threat is believed to be over, Wilson County District Attorney Audrey Gossett said.
Authorities did not discuss a motive at this afternoon’s news conference.
Among those killed was a 14-year-old girl named Annabelle Renee Pomeroy, according to her father, Frank Pomeroy, who is a pastor at the church.
Annabelle “was one very beautiful, special child,” Pomeroy told ABC News by phone.
Pomeroy said he was in Oklahoma this morning, a rare weekend that he wasn’t at the church.
The other victims are all close friends of his, he said.
Last Sunday, Pomeroy delivered a sermon at the church, encouraging parishioners to “lean on the Lord,” even when circumstances don’t make sense.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely, or lean, on your own understanding,” he said. “You see God’s understanding is far greater and there may be things that are taking place that you don’t understand but you still need to do what God’s calling you to do.
‘We heard several shots and we all started running’A woman who said she works at a gas station across the street from the church told ABC News she heard rapid gunfire around 11:15 a.m.Congregants fled the church and ran to the station cowering for cover, she said.
“We heard several shots and we all started running inside the store,” said the woman, 49, but declined to give her name.“It lasted about 15 seconds,” she said. “I yelled, ‘Get down, get inside,’ and we all went into hiding.”
Within minutes of the gunfire, emergency personnel arrived at the scene, she said.
A church turns into a crime scene
Police formed a perimeter around the First Baptist Church and flooded its grounds with emergency and police vehicles, according to ABC San Antonio affiliate KSAT-TV. Agents from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have responded to the scene.
A small group of people were seen clustered together outside the small, white church, holding hands and attempting to pray, a KSAT reporter said.
Paul Buford, a pastor at another church in Sutherland Springs, told KSAT his congregation was in the middle of their service at River Oaks Church when they started getting calls about the shooting.Members of his church who are first responders rushed out while the rest of the congregation immediately started praying.