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A US Air Force veteran who fatally shot at least 26 people in a rural Texas church during Sunday services took his own life after a shootout with residents, the local sheriff said on Monday.

The gunman, who had been thrown out of the military for assaulting his wife and child, wounded at least 20 others during the rampage in the white-steepled First Baptist Church in the small town of Sutherland Springs.

After the gunman, dressed in black tactical gear and firing an assault rifle, left the church, two armed local residents pursued him in vehicles.

The chase ended when the gunman crashed his car and then shot himself, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CBS News in an interview on Monday morning.

“At this time we believe that he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Tackitt said.

The suspect was identified him as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, multiple media reported, citing law enforcement officials.

Devin Kelley, 26, the alleged Sutherland Springs shooter Credit: FACEBOOK

Civilians ‘chased after gunman’

Texas Governor Greg Abbott told CBS News the attack on the church in Sutherland Springs, a community of fewer than 400 people, located about 40 miles (65 km) east of San Antonio, did not appear to be a “random act.”

It was the latest in a long string of U.S. mass shootings in recent years, coming weeks after a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas in the deadliest shooting by a sole gunman in U.S. history.

Emergency personnel load a wounded person on an helicopter following a fatal shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas Credit: KSAT12

U.S. President Donald Trump, on a trip in Asia, told reporters in Tokyo the preliminary reports indicated the shooter was “deranged.”

“This isn’t a guns situation, I mean we could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it,” Trump said. “But fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise … it would have been much worse. But this is a mental health problem at the highest level.”

Sutherland Springs shooting, in pictures

Among the dead was the 14-year-old daughter of church Pastor Frank Pomeroy, the family told several television stations.

One couple, Joe and Claryce Holcombe, told the Washington Post they lost eight extended family members, including their pregnant granddaughter-in-law and three of her children.

A candlelight vigil is held for the victims of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs Credit: AP

In rural areas like Sutherland Springs, gun ownership is a part of life and the state’s Republican leaders for years have balked at gun control, arguing that more firearms among responsible owners make the state safer.

Jeff Forrest, a 36-year-old military veteran who lives a block away from the church, said what sounded like high-caliber, semi-automatic gunfire triggered memories of his four combat deployments with the Marine Corps.

“I was on the porch, I heard 10 rounds go off and then my ears just started ringing,” Forrest said. “I hit the deck and I just lay there.”

How the Texas church mass shooting unfolded

Online records show a man named Devin Patrick Kelley lived in New Braunfels, about 35 miles (56 km) north of Sutherland Springs.

Kelley served in its Logistics Readiness unit at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge in 2014, according to the U.S. Air Force.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child, and given a bad-conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction in rank, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.

Kelley’s Facebook page has been deleted, but cached photos show a profile picture where he appeared with two small children. He also posted a photo of what appeared to be an assault rifle, writing a post that read: “She’s a bad bitch.”

Pastor’s teen daughter among victims

Among the victims was the teenage daughter of the pastor at the small Texas church. 

Pastor Frank Pomeroy said he and his wife Sherri were out of town when the attack happened at the First Baptist Church but their 14-year-old daughter Annabelle was among more than 20 killed.

Annabelle “was one very beautiful, special child,” Mr Pomeroy told ABC News.

His wife said “many friends” had died. 

How the Texas church mass shooting unfolded

Pregnant woman feared dead

A congregant who wasn’t at a Texas church when a gunman opened fire says his pregnant cousin and her in-laws were among those killed.

Nick Uhlig said that his cousin Crystal Holcombe and her in-laws Karla and Bryan Holcombe died in Sunday’s attack at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Crystal Holcombe was eight months pregnant.

Uhlig says Bryan Holcombe did prison ministry, adding that he would go to the prison with a ukulele and sing for the inmates.

Uhlig earlier said that he was not at church on Sunday because he was out late on Saturday.

Other victims, some of whom were evacuated by helicopter, included a six-year-old boy named Rylan who was in surgery after being shot four times, his uncle told CBS News. A two-year-old was also shot and wounded, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Trump: shooting result of a mental health problem

US President Donald Trump on Monday condemned what he described as a “horrific shooting”.

He said the mass killing was the result of a “mental health problem at the highest level”. He also described the gunman as a “very deranged individual”.

“This act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of worship. Our hearts are broken,” Mr Trump said on a visit to Japan.

“Americans do what we do best, we pull together,” Mr Trump said at the start of a meeting with business leaders. “We stand strong, oh so strong.”

He added federal authorities would help Texas in the aftermath of the shooting and that all of America was praying to God.

Barack Obama, the former president, appealed for “concrete steps” to be taken to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Theresa May, the Prime Minister, tweeted: “Tragic loss of life in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Thoughts and prayers with all those affected by this terrible shooting.”

There was no escape

A sheriff says there was likely “no way” for parishioners to escape once shooting started at the Texas church.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. said Sunday night that the shooter fired several shots outside before entering the Sutherland Springs church and walking toward the front of the congregation. Tackitt says the gunman then turned around and opened fire on his way back out the front door.

Tackitt says “I don’t think they could have escaped. You’ve got your pews on either side.”

The sheriff did not name the shooter, but officials identified the gunman to The Associated Press as Devin Kelley.

Tackitt says investigators have not yet determined a motive for the attack.

Civilians praised for confronting gunman

A man who said he pursued the gunman in a Texas church shooting says he was acting on instinct to try to prevent the suspect from escaping.

Johnnie Langendorff told KSAT television that he was driving past the church as the shooting happened and he saw the gunman exchanging fire with a member of the community.

Johnnie Langendorff has been praised as a hero after they were able to stop Texas gunman Devin Kelley’s rampage Credit:  

He said the member of the community asked for help and got into Langendorff’s truck. They took off at high speed in pursuit of the gunman on a nearby highway as police were going in the opposite direction toward the church.

Langendorff said the gunman eventually lost control of his vehicle and crashed. He said the other civilian walked up to the vehicle with his gun drawn and the suspect did not move. He stood guard over the gunman until police arrived 5 to 7 minutes later.

Stephen Willeford  Credit:  

Langendorff says: “I was strictly just acting on what’s the right thing to do.”

Social media users have heaped praise on Langendorff.

One wrote on his Facebook page: “Well done, Johnnie! You’re a true patriot and a hero. Thank you for coming to the aid of those in need, at such a terrible time.”

Law enforcement officials work the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas Credit: Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Sunday services at the small white church are usually attended by about 50 people, local residents said.

Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr said his “heart is broken”.

“You never think this can happen but it can, it doesn’t matter where you’re at. Look at what can happen. It’s a tragic day, massive.”

He added: “The gunman took off. They were in a pursuit. They told me he’s deceased, I don’t know if he shot himself or not.

‘People all know each other’

“It’s a small community, small church, real nice community. Man, you never expect something like this. We don’t know what would inspire a guy to start shooting like that.

“I got a call and they told me there was a big scene going on with a lot of shooting. The details are sketchy, we’re trying to find out what’s gone on.”

Emergency personnel respond to a fatal shooting at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas Credit: KSAT via AP

One witness, a cashier at a petrol station over the road from the church, said she heard dozens of shots being fired in rapid  succession while the church service was going on.

Carrie Matula said: “We heard semi-automatic gunfire. We’re only about 50 yards away from this church. This is a very small community so everyone was very curious as to what was going on.”

Dana Fletcher, a nearby shopkeeper, said: “It’s a little church in a very small community, I don’t know why it would be targeted. It’s a very tight knit community. People all know each other.”

She added: “People weren’t sure whether there was more than one gunman.”

The shooting came just over a month after a gunman in Las Vegas, firing down from a hotel room, killed 58 people and wounded hundreds attending an outdoor concert.

Two years ago a white supremacist, Dylann Roof, entered a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot nine people to death.

Local TV images as police look at the alleged gunman’s car 

A spokeswoman for Connally Memorial Medical Centre in Floresville, near Sutherland Springs, said: “We have accepted a number of patients from the shooting”.

Helicopters and emergency personnel converged on the scene along with agents form the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator, said: “Keeping all harmed in Sutherland Springs in our prayers and grateful for our brave first responders on the scene.”

A woman who lives about 10 minutes away from Sutherland Springs in Floresville and was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said that everyone knows everyone in the sparsely populated county.

“This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town,” said Alena Berlanga. “Everybody’s going to be affected and everybody knows someone who’s affected,” she said.

 

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