On November 5th, 2017, Devin Patrick Kelley strode into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, with ill intent and violence on his mind. Dressed in black tactical gear, he began to fire upon the parishioners as they prayed in the church. By the time he left the church, he had killed 26 parishioners and wounded 20, ranging in age from babies to the elderly.
It is likely that Kelley would have continued his rampage if not for the intervention of a neighbor, former NRA instructor Stephen Willeford, who fired on Kelley as he returned to his car. As the now-injured Kelley fled, Willeford enlisted the help of random passerby Johnnie Langendorff. They were giving pursuit in Johnnie’s truck and chasing Kelley through the Texas streets at speeds up to 95 miles an hour. Cornered and injured, Kelley took his own life, bringing to an end the worst shooting in a place of worship in American history. However, the shooting left a deep impact, as the Pastor unveiled a horrible message to the people of the area.
Sutherland Springs, Texas is a small community about a half hour’s drive from San Antonio. With a population of six hundred residents living on land once granted to Manuel Tarin by the Spanish, this small town is the kind of place where everyone still knows everybody who lives nearby. When this shooting occurred, it injured or killed a twelfth of the town directly, with the violence impacting the lives of every member of the community.
To make matters worse, the mainstream media presence that descended on the small town in many ways crowded out grieving locals or those just trying to return to some semblance of normalcy. To hear one Dallas Post reporter put it, “It was an invasion. It was too much.”
The shooting rocked the town, and the media descended on their grief with gusto, looking to interview everyone and anyone, parking media vehicles everywhere, and generally turning the grieving community into a media spectacle for the purpose of profit. The media did not come to provide solace or to help better understand how such a thing could happen; in large part, they came to turn the grief of community members into fodder for their viewers. A writer for the Dallas Morning News even went so far as to bemoan the way that the mainstream media, both national and international, descended upon the town.
Likewise, politicians seem disinterested in the injury to the religious community and its members, rather using the shooting to score cheap political points and re-introduce legislation. Legislation designed to deprive citizens of rights, like the updated ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban.
Amid the grieving and the endless scrum of journalists from near and far, Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who lost his own 14-year old daughter in the shooting, made a startling announcement. The pastor stated that in the near future, the church has no plans to reopen.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “There’s too many that do not want to go back in there,” adding, “we will probably turn it into a memorial for a while. We’re playing it day by day right now.” He went on to say that there is a service scheduled for Sunday for those in the community grieving that will be held at another location.
The Pastor seems to be, at this juncture, unsure about the future of the church. Will his flock want it to be rebuilt? Will they want the building demolished and the site left empty, in memory of the loss on those hallowed grounds?
Whatever the case may be, one thing is certain; the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas, are in need of solace, wherever it can be found. The actions of the shooter not only injured and killed members of the community; they have worked to deprive the community of a gathering place where they can seek solace together through prayer.
The good pastor, who has lost one of his own children to the violence brought to their small community by this shooter, is best placed to judge and decide the fate of his church. One hopes, however, that the actions taken by this individual, who targeted the religious while they prayed, will not have succeeded in depriving the small community of a place where they can gather and lift up their voices to their God.