A former US Air Force airman wearing a tactical gear and using an assault rifle opened fire on worshippers at a Sunday service at a church in Texas, killing at least 26 people and injuring 20 others in the latest gun- related massacre to shock the country.
The suspect wearing all black started firing at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs just after the Sunday morning service began, officials said. He was armed with a Ruger military-style rifle.
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 Texas history.
Authorities confirmed that the church shooter was a heavily armed white male, in his 20’s, but refused to name him. But the media identified the gunman as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, who was discharged from the US Air Force in 2014.
Police said the gunman crossed the street in his vehicle, got out and began firing using a Ruger AR assault-type rifle.
He then moved to the right side of the church, continuing to fire and then into the building.
As he left, he was confronted by a resident who grabbed his rifle and then began to fire at him as he fled. The resident then chased the shooter who left the scene in his vehicle before leaving the road at the border with Guadalupe County.
He was found dead inside the vehicle, although authorities are not sure if the shooter died from a self- inflicted wound, or whether it was from the resident.
“The exact circumstances of the gunman’s death are still under investigation. The wounded individuals were transported to San Antonio Medical Centre and University Hospital in San Antonio,” the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement said.
The San Antonio FBI branch said there was no indication of the gunman’s motive.
In a brief statement, the Pentagon said the suspect was an airman “at one point,” but additional details about his time in the Air Force were not immediately available.
The US officials said the suspect lived in a San Antonio suburb and doesn’t appear to be linked to organised terrorist groups. The officials said investigators are looking at social media posts Kelley may have made in the days before Sunday’s attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.
Kelley was previously a member of the US Air Force and served at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. The Air Force did not provide a date or condition of the discharge.
Some media outlets reported that he was dishonourably discharged and court martialled in May 2014. The reasons for his discharge remain unclear.
President Donald Trump, who was in Japan on the first leg of a 12-day Asia tour, expressed condolences to the victims of the mass shooting and also called Governor Gerg Abbott.
He condemned the shooting as an “act of evil” and said Americans would pull together.
“And through the tears and through the sadness, we stand strong, oh so strong,” he said,
“In dark times, and these are dark times, such as these, Americans do what they do best and pull together,” Trump said, but dismissed the need for guns control.
Trump said the gunman had a “mental health problem” and that this “is not a guns situation”.
“Preliminary reports show a very deranged individual who s been having a problem for a very long time,” he said.
“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country.”
Trump said it was fortunate that another person on the scene had a firearm, otherwise “it would have been much worse.”
The shooting has devastated the small Texas town in the east of San Antonio, described as a place where “everybody knows everybody” and sent shockwaves across the US, as the nation confronts a breaking point over race and gun violence.
Less than a thousand people live in Sutherland Springs and officials believe that the number of people who are injured and killed make up about ten per cent of the entire population.
“While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation,…I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act,” Governor Abbott said during conference.
Former President Barack Obama expressed his condolences over the incident and said, “We grieve with all the families in Sutherland Springs harmed by this act of hatred, and we’ll stand with the survivors as they recover.”