Texas church shooting witness: He wouldn't stop

Tuesday November 7 2017

Texas Church Shooting

Law enforcement officials continue their investigation at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on November 6, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. PHOTO | SCOTT OLSON | AFP 

By AFP
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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS

Terrie Smith was planning a lazy Sunday, before the bullets started flying.

The 54-year-old owns a restaurant in a gas station across the street from the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

She had gone to fill up her car to enjoy her day off, when the unthinkable happened.

Smith watched, horrified, as 26-year-old gunman Devin Patrick Kelley encircled the church, raining bullets on the men, women and children attending Sunday services inside.

"He wouldn't stop," Smith remembered through tears.

She described the one image seared into her mind: the gunman's body convulsions as he emptied his assault rifle.

"And then, it stopped a little bit, and then you could hear the gun shots go, and that's when he was inside the church shooting."

Smith lost a close friend, who died along with two of her children — a third was "in bad shape" at the hospital.

There were multiple eyewitness and media accounts of several members of families perishing in the gunfire. Many children were among the 26 dead, who ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years, according to police.

David Casillas, 55, arrived at the scene as word of the carnage first began to spread. He filmed some of the aftermath on his smartphone.

"There were still people walking out of the church, church members, with blood all over them," he told AFP.

"Everybody was in shock, nobody saying a word. They were just holding their heads, just trying to process it all in."

A body was laying outside the building, he said, the image reminding him of his own son's 2005 shooting death in Houston. He had moved to the countryside to escape the gun violence.

"Just still can't believe it," he said.

COMMUNITY PULLS TOGETHER

The church was a particularly devastating target, because of its central role in the life of the residents here.

Casillas had proposed to his wife there. It is the biggest church in town — a place where any community member could go for donated food.

In a small community of ranchers and city dwellers escaping to the quiet of the countryside, almost everyone here knew someone affected.

"They have a huge youth group there," said Kit Collman, 36. "Right now, I don't know how to feel, angry or sad."

For many, grief and shock transformed into action. A make-shift donation point had sprung up at the community centre a block away from the church.

Residents arrived with trucks of supplies — jars of peanut butter, large boxes of rice and pasta.

Volunteers with pickup trucks stood by to drive the supplies to a church at a neighbouring town where the victims' families were planning funerals away from the media's glare.

Pam Ewing loaded her Chevrolet Silverado truck full of paper towels, toiletries and bottled water.

"We are going to stand behind one another in this very evil time," she told AFP.  "We will come together and we will be stronger."