U.S.

Bishops 'stand in unity' with Texans following massive shooting at Baptist church

By Catholic News Service
November 6, 2017

Law enforcement officers investigate a mass shooting Nov. 5 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A lone gunman entered the church during Sunday services taking the lives of at least 26 people and injuring several more. (CNS photo/Nick Wagner, American Statesman via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The U.S. Catholic Church stands "in unity" with the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the larger community after a shooting during Sunday services took the lives of at least 26 people and injured at least 20 others.

Those who died ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old, and included 14-year-old Annabelle Pomeroy. Her father, Frank Pomeroy, is pastor of the church but he was not at the service.

"We stand in unity with you in this time of terrible tragedy -- as you stand on holy ground, ground marred today by horrific violence," said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

With San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, "I extend my prayers and the prayers of my brother bishops for the victims, the families, the first responders, our Baptist brothers and sisters, indeed the whole community of Sutherland Springs."

Cardinal Cupich released a statement Nov. 6 about the tragic event. 

"Once again we must extend our condolences to families suffering the horrific loss of loved ones to an act of madness. It would dishonor those lost and those who mourn to simply participate in the routine exchange of sympathies underpinned by the sense of futility and hopelessness that has befallen our country," he said. "We must recognize that the factors that produce these tragedies will not change unless we take direct action to change them."

Comprehensive national gun control policies will not prevent every shooting but it will prevent some, he said. 

"Access to mental health care - in legislation founded on the principle that health care is a right not a privilege - will not prevent every shooting but it will prevent some and will mean we will have fewer podium speeches about our thoughts and prayers," the cardinal said. "Let it be our firm resolve to act and to advocate and to end this hideous blot upon our nation."

"Honor the memories of the many thousands of gun violence victims by holding accountable those who could have done something and did not, who called for study instead of steps toward progress, and who gave those Pope Francis has called merchants of death more regard than the dead children, the dead men and women we mourn today," he said. "The time to demand action is now."

Law enforcement officials told CNN that a lone gunman entered the church at about 11:30 a.m. CST while 50 people were attending Sunday services. Almost everyone in the congregation was shot. Sutherland Springs is 30 to 40 miles southeast of San Antonio.

Two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press the suspect was Devin Kelley, described as a white male in his 20s. He parked at a gas station across the street from the church, crossed the street and allegedly began firing as he walked toward the church and then continued firing once inside. He was wearing black tactical-type gear and used an assault weapon, AP said.

After he left the church, he was confronted by a local resident who had a rifle "and engaged the suspect," AP said, quoting Freeman Martin, who is with the Texas department of Safety. The suspect was later found dead in his vehicle some distance away. It was not clear if he died from a self-inflicted gun shot or from wounds suffered when the resident shot him.

His motive was not immediately known. He had been in the Air Force but was discharged for bad conduct allegedly for domestic abuse and served a 12 month sentence in confinement after being court-martialed in 2012.

"We ask the Lord for healing of those injured, his loving care of those who have died and the consolation of their families," Cardinal DiNardo said. "This incomprehensibly tragic event joins an ever-growing list of mass shootings, some of which were also at churches while people were worshipping and at prayer, he continued.

"We must come to the firm determination that there is a fundamental problem in our society. A culture of life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms. May the Lord, who himself is peace, send us his spirit of charity and nonviolence to nurture his peace among us all," the cardinal said.

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