Authorities Sift Through Crime Scene At Texas Church

Nov 7, 2017
Originally published on November 8, 2017 4:11 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we begin with word that domestic problems may have been behind the mass shooting at a Texas church. The county sheriff says the gunman's mother-in-law attended Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, and she had received threatening text messages from him. We also know now that the shooter should not have been allowed to buy a gun. The Air Force says it didn't follow protocol, didn't report to the FBI Devin Patrick Kelley's court martial on domestic charges. That's a record that should have prevented him from buying a gun. NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Texas, and she joins us now to talk about the latest from Sutherland Springs. And, Debbie, just catch us up on what's going on, what life is like in this town today.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: You know, the church itself is still a crime scene. It's cordoned off. Investigators continue to do their work collecting and reviewing evidence. Authorities are saying that the shooter fired at least 450 rounds of ammunition in that attack. Now, First Baptist also regularly makes video recordings of its worship services so the FBI is going through that material as well. It has to be horribly disturbing images there.

KELLY: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: And they're also in the process of notifying the families, you know, of victims. Some families have lost multiple relatives. Twenty-six people were killed, ranging from an 18-month-old baby to a 77-year-old. And then you have another 20 people who are wounded. So for this town of just 400 people, that means that just about every resident here either knows a victim or is acquainted somehow with their family, and that's been really hard for people, and they're not really sure what to do about it. And so they're doing what they know to do. I stopped by the Community House yesterday, and there was just this outpouring of people bringing food and fresh flowers.

Danny Morales and his sisters are helping organize the donations.

DANNY MORALES: And, like, I just can't believe that this happened in our own community.

ELLIOTT: Laura Morales says they learned of the tragedy when their mother called saying she heard gunfire Sunday morning.

LAURA MORALES: She heard it, and then it stopped, and then it started again. I guess he had reloaded or something 'cause then she heard the gunshots again, like, start over. So it just - it was chaos after that.

ELLIOTT: The Morales family is connected to First Baptist. Their late grandfather was a member there years ago.

L. MORALES: He's deceased now. He would always go. He didn't have a vehicle, but he would get on his lawn mower and he would drive over there, and he would sit through church and then he'd drive back on the little lawn mower. (Laughter).

ELLIOTT: That's how small Sutherland Springs, Texas, is, that a parishioner could ride lawn equipment to worship services. The town, just southeast of San Antonio, has one flashing yellow light. Its side streets are lined with modest homes, many still decorated for Halloween.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOGS)

ELLIOTT: First Baptist Church sits right at the center of town. Danny Morales says it's also the center of community life here.

D. MORALES: They usually have, every Thursday, a free meal. They invite any members who want to come out, and non - they don't have to be members of the church, just anybody that wants to come out and spend some time with neighbors.

ELLIOTT: Just last week, he says, the church had a float in the Sutherland's Springs Old Town Day Parade. Now the community is feeding the church and victims' families, as well as first responders and hospital workers. Laura Morales says the first thing she could think of in the chaos was to make tuna fish sandwiches. Ronald Morrison brought venison sausage and flowers. He's from the gunman's hometown.

RONALD MORRISON: We just want them to know that we share in their grief.

ELLIOTT: Laura Morales says it's surreal that Sutherlands Springs is now the scene of the nation's latest senseless mass shooting.

L. MORALES: We're just a small town. We mind our own business. But the thing is with the small towns, of course, everybody knows everybody. So everybody was affected some way, somehow.

ELLIOTT: They came together to comfort one another last night during a prayer vigil at the community baseball park.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAYER VIGIL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And so we ask that you unite with us tonight as we sing, as we pray, as we unite to remember the families who have been taken.

ELLIOTT: There were lots of tears and hugs. And in a grassy field nearby, white crosses were erected in memory of the victims. For Danny Morales, it's hard to think about what's next for First Baptist.

D. MORALES: Obviously the church is not the building, right? The church is the members of the organization, the members of the community. So it'll get rebuilt. The church will get rebuilt. But the memories that are there, right, it's - now it's stained by this horrific event that happened.

ELLIOTT: So Mary Louise, you hear there, very difficult for people here to try to process really what is the unthinkable.

KELLY: Yeah. All right. That's NPR's Debbie Elliott reporting as Tuesday morning, another day, gets underway in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Debbie, thanks very much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.