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Media caption‘Our kids play together,’ says a resident whose neighbours are feared dead

When a mass shooting happens in a small town like Sutherland Springs, Texas, everyone knows a victim.

Pauline Garza was lazy on Sunday morning, and it might have saved her life.

She and her 11-year-old daughter were thinking about going to church. She isn’t a regular, but her daughter was baptised there.

This time, they decided not to. “Feeling lazy,” she says, standing on her porch 24 hours later.

Soon afterwards, they heard the gunfire.

Pauline’s neighbours, the Holcombes, were also churchgoers.

Pauline thinks they were in church on Sunday morning. She hasn’t seen them return.

The Holcombes’ two dogs lie on the drive, waiting. The gate is still locked; the porch light is still on.

The families are close. Pauline’s daughter stays over at the Holcombes’ place.

“Very nice family,” says Pauline, 47. “They’re always out in the yard.

“The kids will play with my daughter all the time. Very nice.”

When Pauline heard the shots, she thought it was a neighbour working on his house.

“I asked my daughter – ‘What was that noise?’ She said ‘I don’t know’.

“We came to the door. I saw my (other) neighbour standing there. You could still hear the shots being fired.

“I never thought it was gunshots. I never did.”

And when she found it was gunfire?

“I thought ‘How can that happen here?’ It’s unreal.”

Image caption

The town will recover, says Julius

Around 400 people live in Sutherland Springs, a small town in Texas, 30 miles (48km) east of San Antonio.

It isn’t a wealthy place. There are neat, well-built houses, but there is decay, too.

Rusty, abandoned cars inhabit front gardens. Some houses disappear under weeds.

The All Coin Laundry, long forgotten, hasn’t washed a shirt in 10 years, at least. People work in “nursing homes, hospitals, the convenience store,” says Pauline.

But – while it isn’t wealthy – it is friendly. Neighbours know each other. People say hello. The school bus driver waves at passers-by.

In one garden, a sign says: “Cowboys make good points with spurs and barbed wire.”

The next sign says: “Welcome to Texas.”

“I love it here,” says Pauline. “You don’t have all that loud stuff like the big cities.”

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The Holcombe family home

Julius Kepper, 53, has lived in Sutherland Springs for seven years. At first, he thought Sunday’s gunfire was building work.

When he realised it wasn’t, he grabbed his gun and ran out of the house.

He wasn’t the only one. His neighbour, Stephen, had already shot the attacker and given chase.

Julius didn’t go to church, but he knew “a bunch of people” who did.

“Some of the young guys who went would cut my yard,” he says.

“It’s a small community. You can’t help but know people.”

Julius is drinking a large Coke in the petrol station on the edge of town. Another customer sits at a table, drinking coffee.

Behind the counter are rows of Texas caps. The San Antonio Express-News sits on the counter.

“Time for worship turns to horror,” says the headline.

Julius thinks the town will heal, but it will take time.

“For this to happen in a little country town with 300 people, it’s inconceivable,” he says.

“You kind of expect it in big cities. Not here.”

Back on her porch, Pauline Garza thinks the shooting means more people will carry guns.

“Even to church,” she says. “We would never think out here in the country you would need a gun to protect yourself. Now you’re going to have to.

“Now you got crazy people walking around everywhere.”

Pauline didn’t sleep on Sunday night. The what-ifs were playing through her mind.

And, though she and her daughter are safe, their suffering isn’t over.

“How do I talk to my daughter about this?” she asks. “How can I do that?”

Photos by Paul Blake

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