On the day after a black-clad gunman stormed into their Texas church, killing at least 26 worshipers, including their teenage daughter Annabelle, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and his wife spoke briefly to the news media.
The Rev. Frank Pomeroy choked up and repeatedly wiped away tears as he tried to talk about the tragedy. In the wake of the killings, he is grieving the death of his 14-year-old daughter while also ministering to his shattered flock, many of whom are now planning funerals and attending to injured family members and friends.
“What do you tell the other grieving families?” a reporter asked him.
“I’m still working on that,” the pastor said softly before politely adding, “but thank you.”
His wife, Sherri, read a statement that said reporters had been “bombarding” them with requests to speak about Annabelle and celebrate her life. They preferred not to focus on their individual loss, she said.
“As much tragedy as that entails for our family, we don’t want to overshadow the other lives lost yesterday,” she said. “We lost more than Belle yesterday. And one thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is the fact that Belle was surrounded yesterday by her church family that she loved fiercely and vice versa.”
Frank and Sherri Pomeroy were traveling Sunday and not at the church when Devin Patrick Kelley stormed into the 11 a.m. service and rained down bullets from a semiautomatic rifle. Kelley, 26, who lived in a town 35 miles north of the church, kept shooting until a local man heard the attack and fired upon him, hitting him twice, officials said. Kelley then fled in an SUV and later took his own life while being pursued by two civilian residents.
Kelley was discharged from the Air Force in 2014 for bad conduct after being court-martialed and sentenced to a year in a military prison for assaulting his wife and stepson. Based on the conviction, he should not have been able to buy the firearms used in the killings. On Monday, the Air Force said it failed to report Kelly’s conviction to the FBI, so it was never entered into a national database used to conduct background checks for people who purchase firearms.
Authorities also said Monday that some of Kelley’s relatives attended the Sutherland Springs church. Among them was his mother-in-law, to whom police said he had sent “threatening texts.”
That did not necessarily constitute a motive for the attack, they said. “There are many ways that he could have taken care of the mother-in-law without coming with 15 loaded magazines and an assault rifle to a church,” Freeman Martin of the Texas Department of Public Safety said at a news conference. “I think he came here with a purpose and a mission.”
On an average Sunday, the little church draws 30 to 50 people, members said. The shooting victims ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years old, officials said.
In her statement, Sherri Pomeroy said the church was more than just a collection of members.
“We were a very close family,” she said. “We ate together. We laughed together. We cried together. And we worshiped together. Now most of our church family is gone. Our building is probably beyond repair. And the few of us left behind lost tragically yesterday.”
When asked how he makes sense of the tragedy, the pastor said, “I don’t understand, but I know my God does.”
He said he’s telling people to “lean into the Lord.”
“Whatever life brings to you, lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding,” he said.
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