History > 2017 > USA > Gun Violence (I)
Gunman Kills at Least 26
in Attack on Rural Texas Church
NOV. 5, 2017
The New York Times
By DAVID MONTGOMERY,
and MANNY FERNANDEZ
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Tex. — A gunman clad in all black, with a
ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands,
opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in
rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San
Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror.
The gunman was identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as Devin
Patrick Kelley, 26. Mr. Kelley, who lived in New Braunfels, Tex., died shortly
after the attack.
He had served in the Air Force at a base in New Mexico but was court-martialed
in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child. He was sentenced to 12
months’ confinement and received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, according to
Ann Stefanek, the chief of Air Force media operations.
The motive for the attack was unclear on Sunday, but the grisly nature of it
could not have been clearer: Families gathered in pews, clutching Bibles and
praying to the Lord, were murdered in cold blood on the spot.
Mr. Kelley started firing at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs not
long after the Sunday morning service began at 11 a.m., officials said. He was
armed with a Ruger military-style rifle, and within minutes, many of those
inside the small church were either dead or wounded. The victims ranged in age
from 5 to 72, and among the dead were several children, a pregnant woman and the
pastor’s 14-year-old daughter. It was the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s
history. At least 20 more were wounded.
“It’s something we all say does not happen in small communities, although we
found out today it does,” said Joe Tackitt, the sheriff of Wilson County, which
includes Sutherland Springs.
Sheriff Tackitt and other officials said the gunman first stopped at a gas
station across Highway 87 from the church. He drove across the street, got out
of his car and began firing from the outside, moving to the right side of the
church, the authorities said. Then he entered the building and kept firing.
The authorities received their first call about a gunman at about 11:20 a.m.
Officials and witnesses said Mr. Kelley appeared to be prepared for an assault,
with black tactical gear, multiple rounds of ammunition and a ballistic vest.
“He went there, he walked in, started shooting people and then took off,” said
Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas congressman who represents the region and
who was briefed by law enforcement officials.
When Mr. Kelley emerged from the church, an armed neighbor exchanged gunfire
with him, hitting Mr. Kelley, who fled in his vehicle. Neighbors apparently
followed him, chasing him into the next county, Guadalupe County, where Mr.
Kelley crashed his car. Mr. Kelley was found dead in his vehicle. Officials said
it was unclear how Mr. Kelley had died.
At the church, he left behind a scene of carnage. Of the 26 fatalities, 23
people were found dead inside the church, two were found outside, and one died
later at a hospital.
Speaking at a news conference in Japan, the first stop on his tour of Asia,
President Trump called the shooting a “mental health problem at the highest
level” and not “a guns situation,” adding the gunman was a “very deranged
individual.” He also ordered flags flown at half-staff at the White House and
all federal buildings through Thursday.
In Floresville, Tex., hours after the attack, Scott Holcombe, 30, sat with his
sister on the curb outside the emergency room at Connally Memorial Medical
Center. They were both in tears. Their father, Bryan Holcombe, had been guest
preaching at the church, they said, and he and their mother, Karla Holcombe,
“I’m dumbfounded,” Mr. Holcombe said, also noting that his pregnant
sister-in-law, Crystal Holcombe, had been killed. “This is unimaginable. My
father was a good man, and he loved to preach. He had a good heart.”
His sister, Sarah Slavin, 33, added: “They weren’t afraid of death. They had a
strong faith, so there’s comfort in that. I feel like my parents, especially my
mom, wasn’t scared.”
A parishioner, Sandy Ward, said that a daughter-in-law and three of her
grandchildren were shot. Her grandson, who is 5, was shot four times and
remained in surgery Sunday night. She said she was awaiting word on her other
Ms. Ward said she did not attend services on Sunday because of her troubled
knees and a bad hip. “I just started praying for everybody who was there” when
she learned of the shooting, she said.
At a news conference on Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott said that he and other Texans
were asking “for God’s comfort, for God’s guidance and for God’s healing for all
those who are suffering.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms
and Explosives were helping in the investigation, which was being led by the
The shooting unfolded on the eighth anniversary of the attack in 2009 on Fort
Hood in Texas, when an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, killed 13
people in one of the deadliest mass shootings at an American military base.
Major Hasan carried out his attack in an attempt to wage jihad on American
The death toll on Sunday also exceeded the number killed in 1966 by a student at
the University of Texas at Austin, Charles Whitman, who opened fire from the
school’s clock tower in a day of violence that ultimately killed 17. It also
exceeded the number killed during a rampage at a restaurant in Killeen in 1991
in which a gunman fatally shot 23 people and then took his own life.
And the shooting on Sunday occurred more than two years after Dylann S. Roof
opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.,
in June 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor. The motive in that
attack was racial hatred — Mr. Roof, a white supremacist, plotted an assault on
a black congregation — but no motive has been established by the authorities in
the shooting in Sutherland Springs. The First Baptist Church is predominantly
white, and Mr. Kelley is white.
The authorities said Mr. Kelley used an Ruger AR-15 variant — a knockoff of the
standard service rifle carried by the American military for roughly half a
Almost all AR-15 variants legally sold in the United States fire only
semiautomatically, and they were covered by the federal assault weapons ban that
went into effect in 1994. Since the ban expired in 2004, the weapons have been
legal to sell or possess in much of the United States, and sales of AR-15s have
Ruger’s AR-15s made for civilian markets sell for about $500 to $900, depending
on the model.
Mr. Kelley grew up in New Braunfels, in his parents’ nearly $1 million home, and
was married in 2014. He had been married at least once before and was sued for
divorce in 2012 in New Mexico, the same year he was court-martialed on charges
of assaulting his wife and child.
Why he chose to attack a church 30 miles away from his home is one of the
questions that remained unanswered.
Sutherland Springs in Wilson County is about 34 miles east of downtown San
Antonio, in a slow-paced region where church-going is a common part of the
Sunday routine. The church marquee on Sunday needed updating from last week,
reading, “Join Us, Fall Fest, Oct 31, 6 to 8 PM.”
The unincorporated community has a population that numbers in the low hundreds —
the 2000 census was 362, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
The preliminary death toll would amount to about 7 percent of that population.
Joseph Silva, 49, who lives about five miles northeast of Sutherland Springs,
described Sutherland Springs as “a one-blinking-light town.”
“Everybody is pretty grief-stricken,” Mr. Silva said. “Everyone’s worried.”
On Sunday night, a few minutes down a pitch-black road, victims’ families
gathered at another house of worship, the River Oaks Church. Its parking lot was
full of about 50 large trucks, and parents walked into the building holding
their children’s hands.
The police kept tight control over the scene, refusing to allow any reporters to
enter. One man in a cowboy hat was also turned away. “They said they’re
gathering to inform the families, but they’ll only let immediate family in, only
if you have a wristband,” he said. A short while later, a young man rushed out
to his truck, visibly upset, and raced away.
The First Baptist Church, the scene of the shooting, was also sealed off, with
yellow police-line tape posted around the church grounds.
First Baptist is a little church, albeit a tech-savvy one. The service at the
church last Sunday was posted on YouTube, one of several posted there. Videos
posted online show lyrics to the hymns appearing on television screens with
parishioners playing electric guitars and a sign language interpreter
translating the songs.
The video of last Sunday’s service begins with a rendition of a song called
“Happiness Is the Lord.” Then the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, told his parishioners —
20 to 30 were visible in the video — to walk around the room and “shake
“Tell them it’s good to see them in God’s house this morning,” Pastor Pomeroy
10-29-2017 - Proverbs 3 - You Don't Need Training Wheels, You Need Christ! Video
by First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas
Correction: November 5, 2017
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a Wilson County
commissioner. He is Albert Gamez Jr., not Gamaz.
David Montgomery reported from Sutherland Springs, Christopher Mele from New
York, and Manny Fernandez from Houston. Reporting was contributed by Susan
Anasagasti and Shannon Sims from Sutherland Springs; Natalie Kitroeff from New
Braunfels, Tex.; Maggie Astor, Christina Caron, Matthew Haag, Anemona
Hartocollis and William K. Rashbaum from New York; Adam Goldman from Washington;
John Ismay from Arlington, Va.; Julie Hirschfeld Davis from Tokyo; C.J. Chivers
and Thomas Gibbons-Neff. Jack Begg contributed research.
A version of this article appears in print on November 6, 2017, on Page A1 of
the New York edition with the headline: Armed for War, Gunman Kill 26 in Attack
on Rural Texas Church.
Gunman Kills at Least 26 in Attack on Rural Texas Church,
Nov. 5, 2017,
A Burst of Gunfire, a Pause,
Then Carnage in Las Vegas
That Would Not Stop
OCT. 2, 2017
The New York Times
By KEN BELSON,
and RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
LAS VEGAS — At first, it sounded like fireworks — a loud,
crackling noise. Then the awful realization began to spread, unevenly, through
the huge crowd.
It dawned on people when they heard screams, when they saw bloodied victims
collapse around them, or when others stampeded for the exits, trampling some of
the people in their way.
Many of the terrified concertgoers followed their instincts and crouched or lay
flat, not realizing that they remained exposed to a gunman lodged high above
them. Others surged into surrounding streets and buildings, leaving behind
debris lost in the panic — drink cups, shoes, and cellphones that kept ringing
for hours, as relatives and friends tried to reach their loved ones and find out
if they were safe.
By sunrise on Monday, the staggering toll at an outdoor country music festival
on a cool desert night was becoming clear: at least 59 people killed, the police
said, and 527 injured, either by gunfire or in the flight to safety.
A lone gunman perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
had smashed the windows of his suite with a hammer, taken aim at a crowd of
22,000 people, and committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in American
history. Late on Monday, law enforcement officials said they still had no idea
what the motive was.
The police said they found 23 firearms in his suite. And when they searched the
attacker’s house, they discovered an additional 19 firearms and, according to
Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, “some
explosives, and several thousand rounds of ammo.” He added that they also found
ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer sometimes used in making bombs, in the gunman’s
The sheriff said some rifles found in the hotel room may have been modified to
make them fully automatic. Automatic rifles, which fire multiple rounds with a
squeeze of a trigger, are highly regulated, and on videos posted online by
witnesses, the rapid-fire sound indicated that at least one weapon was fully
Down below at the Route 91 Harvest Festival, Melissa Ayala, 41, was drinking and
laughing with four friends from California when they heard the gunfire, which at
first they thought was fireworks. Then a man near her fell with a bullet wound
to his neck. “There was blood pouring everywhere,” she said.
And then: “It was just total chaos,” she said. “People falling down and laying
everywhere. We were trying to take cover and we had no idea where to go.”
The police identified the gunman as Stephen Paddock, 64, a retiree with no
significant criminal history, who liked to gamble and seemed to live a quiet
life with his girlfriend in Mesquite, Nev., about 80 miles northeast of Las
Vegas. He shot himself to death before the police entered his room.
The Islamic State claimed on Monday that the gunman was “a soldier of the
Islamic State,” but provided no evidence. The group has generally been accurate
in claiming only violence carried out by those directed by ISIS or inspired by
their ideology online. However, in recent months, the group has become more
sloppy and has made at least two false claims, including for an attack on a
casino in Manila and a bomb plot at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
Aaron Rouse, the F.B.I. special agent in charge in Las Vegas, said that so far
there was no proof that Mr. Paddock had links to any international terrorist
Speaking at the White House, President Trump called the shooting “an act of pure
evil,” ordered flags flown at half-staff, and said he would travel to Las Vegas
On Capitol Hill, Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, sent
a letter to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan calling for him to create a select
committee on gun violence to “study and report back common sense legislation to
help end this crisis.”
Previous mass shootings have not generally resulted in changes to federal gun
laws. Asked at a news conference about whether the president, who has said that
some mass shootings could be mitigated if victims had more liberty to buy guns,
would now ask for changes to gun laws, his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee
Sanders, said that “there will be, certainly, time for that policy discussion to
take place, but that’s not the place that we’re in at this moment.”
“I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that
won’t stop these types of things from happening,” she added.
Last Thursday, officials said, Mr. Paddock checked into the gold-tinted,
43-story Mandalay Bay, at the southern end of the string of big hotels that line
South Las Vegas Boulevard, the renowned Las Vegas Strip. He took Suite 32135,
one of the hotel’s “Vista” suites, which spread out over 1,700 square feet and
offer floor-to-ceiling windows. “This is the perfect Las Vegas suite for those
who seek the perfect views,” the hotel’s website says.
He brought in more than 10 suitcases during his stay, but no one saw anything
amiss, the sheriff said.
Over the following three days, the Las Vegas Village and Festival Grounds,
northeast of the Mandalay Bay, played host to the Route 91 Harvest Festival,
featuring dozens of country music acts.
It was after 10 p.m. Sunday, while Jason Aldean was on stage singing “When She
Says Baby,” that the first burst of gunfire hit the crowd. At 10:08, someone
broadcast on a police radio channel, “we got shots fired — sounds like an
automatic firearm,” and less than a minute later, “It’s coming from upstairs in
the Mandalay Bay.”
Video of the shooting captured nine seconds of continuous, rapid bursts of fire,
followed by 37 seconds of silence from the weapon, as some in the crowd screamed
in panic and others looked around in confusion. Mr. Aldean kept singing for a
few seconds before realizing what was happening and taking cover.
Gunfire then erupted again and again, in rapid-fire bursts.
Jamey Eller, 66, said she and her friends hit the ground with the first
fusillade, and then “the second round came and we started to belly-crawl.” As
the shooting continued, they decided they had to get up and run.
“We had no idea where we were going,” she said. “We just kept hearing shooting.
It felt like they were following us.”
Her sister, Cindy McAfee, 56, called her husband, Steve McAfee, who had stayed
back in their hotel room — on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, where the
gunman was. “He was looking down and seeing what was going on and said, ‘Just
get out of there — he’s not in the venue, he’s here,’ ” Ms. McAfee said. “It was
absolutely the most scared I’ve been in my entire life.”
Almost nine minutes after the shooting began, an officer radioed, “We’re still
taking gunfire, we’re pinned down.” Seconds later, an officer broadcast: “We
need to snuff the shooter before there are more victims. Anybody have eyes on
Some survivors tried to climb the chain-link fence topped with barbed wire
around the nearby McCarran International Airport, until firefighters ripped the
fence up from the ground, allowing them to crawl under it.
Krystal Legette, who was visiting from New York, was at the Sundance Helicopters
office at the airport, waiting for a sightseeing flight around the city, when,
she said, three women burst into the building, screaming, “They’re shooting,
they’re shooting!” Then another woman came in, bleeding from a bullet wound in
her right arm, and Ms. Legette, a nurse, and three others applied a tourniquet.
More and more people ran into the office, until about 100 had taken shelter
there, she said. A worker turned out the lights, locked the doors and told
everyone to go inside closets and other areas away from the windows.
Ambulances arrived at the festival grounds quickly, but were overwhelmed. Some
victims were rushed to hospitals in cars and the backs of pickup trucks.
Paramedics’ radio frequencies were so clogged that some used cellphones to call
ahead to emergency rooms.
“It was a wide range of injuries, from gunshots to shrapnel wounds, to trample
injuries, to people trying to jump fences,” said Greg Cassell, chief of the
Clark County Fire Department.
As survivors poured into nearby streets and buildings, the police swarmed the
Mandalay Bay, conducting a room-by-room search starting on the 29th floor,
Sheriff Lombardo said. At one point, he said, Mr. Paddock fired at them through
the door of his suite, wounding a hotel security guard. The officers backed off,
he said, and then SWAT teams went in.
The police also searched for Mr. Paddock’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley, thinking
that she might have been with him, in part because he had been gambling using a
Players Club Card, a kind of casino debit card, that was issued in her name.
Later, it was determined that Ms. Danley was out of the country. The police
searched the couple’s home in Mesquite and another house Mr. Paddock owned in
Hours after the shooting, as guests returned to the Mandalay Bay to retrieve
luggage, those who had been at the concert were still in shock.
Ms. Ayala and her friends from California described how they had run for several
minutes, reaching the top of the MGM Grand parking lot, where they continued to
see the chaos on the Strip below. They called their children, worried that it
would be the last time they spoke.
They flagged down a driver who agreed to take them to a friend’s timeshare, far
off the Strip.
“It wasn’t until we got there and locked the door behind us that we felt safe,”
Ms. Ayala said. “That was the first time I really breathed.”
Ken Belson and Jennifer Medina reported from Las Vegas, and
Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Reporting was contributed by John Eligon and
Kimberley McGee from Las Vegas; Julie Turkewitz from Mesquite, Nev.; Rukmini
Callimachi, Jonah Engel Bromwich and Sheri Fink from New York; and Eric Schmitt
and Adam Goldman from Washington.
A Burst of Gunfire, a Pause,
Then Carnage in Las Vegas That Would
Oct. 2, 2017,