Texas Church Weighs In On What Happens To Its House Of Worship

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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX (CBSMiami/CNN) —  There were several terrifying minutes in the house of God during the church massacre.

Many of the victims of the Sunday massacre — the 25 people and an unborn child — will be laid to rest this weekend and next week, CNN affiliate KSAT reported.

The First Baptist Church, now pocked with hundreds of bullets, stained with blood and shattered windows, has been rendered uninhabitable. Video from inside the church showed that the gunfire had lasted about seven minutes, said an official briefed on the case, according to The New York Times. The building is now surrounded by a tall, dark fence.

The church plans to hold a Sunday service at a community center next door, organized by pastors from around the area. Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of First Baptist Church, is scheduled to speak.

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He told Southern Baptist Convention executives that his preference would be to tear down the building and possibly build a memorial in its place.

“This was just the pastor discussing what he thinks [the] best case scenario would be,” Roger Oldham, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention said. “But the church has to make the decision together to tear down the church.”

Executives from the network of churches are in Sutherland Springs to help the surviving members of First Baptist and the community heal from the tragedy.

“Everything is in such grief mode right now in this church [that] these decisions will have to unfold as they come for the people there. It will be in their own timeline,” Oldham said.

Charlene Uhl lost her 16-year-old daughter, Haley Krueger, who had loved going to the church and attended youth group there twice a week.

“I think the church should be held elsewhere,” Uhl told Spectrum News, a CNN affiliate. “Still have the church, but this particular one be gone.”

In previous mass shootings, decisions on what to do with the site have varied.

Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children and six staff were killed, was razed to make way for a new school that opened in 2016. The Pulse in Orlando, in which 49 people were killed at the LGBT nightclub, is to be turned into a memorial, the owner had said.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston re-opened its venerable structure days after nine people were killed in a racially motivated shooting.

The victims

White crosses stand near the church in memory of the victims as well-wishers and community members stopped to pray, and left behind flowers and messages of love.

The small church was an anchor in the unincorporated community, which lies about 30 miles east of San Antonio. It’s where neighbors sang hymns, shared their lives and prayed for each other.

The 25 victims have been identified:

Robert Marshall, 56; Karen Marshall, 56; Keith Braden, 62; Tara McNulty, 33; Annabelle Pomeroy, 14; Peggy Warden, 56; Dennis Johnson, Sr., 77; Sara Johnson, 68; Lula White, 71; Joann Ward, 30; Brooke Ward, 5; Robert Corrigan, 51; Shani Corrigan, 51; Therese Rodriguez, 66; Ricardo Rodriguez, 64; Haley Krueger, 16; Emily Garcia, 7; Emily Hill, 11; Gregory Hill, 13; Megan Hill, 9; Marc Holcombe, 36, Noah Holcombe, 1; Karla Holcombe, 58; John Holcombe, 60; Crystal Holcombe, 36, who was pregnant and her unborn child, Carlin Holcombe, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The gunman’s troubled history

The gunman, Devin Kelley had a troubled past and was prone to domestic violence and animal cruelty, according to public records and those who knew him.

As an airman in New Mexico, he was convicted in military court in 2012 of assaulting his then-wife and stepson. While awaiting that military trial, he escaped from a New Mexico mental health facility where he had been confined.

The Air Force acknowledged it did not appropriately relay Kelley’s court-martial conviction for domestic assault to civilian law enforcement, as required, preventing the conviction from showing up in a federal database that licensed gun dealers must check before someone can buy a firearm.

Kelley posted on social media about his rifle and his affinity for mass shootings. A neighbor of his said that in the week before the shooting, he heard gunshots coming from Kelley’s property every morning.

He had an ongoing dispute with his in-laws from his current marriage, who attended the Sutherland Springs church, police say. Kelley’s grandmother-in-law was among those killed. And police say Kelley had a history of texting threats to his mother-in-law, who was not inside the church during Sunday’s shooting.

(©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CNN contributed to this report.)

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