After the mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 worshipers dead, a number of faith leaders took to social media to condemn the attack.
On Sunday, gunman Devin Kelley Sunday entered the sanctuary with a rifle, and began indiscriminately shooting, leaving dozens dead and at least 20 others wounded. At least eight of the people killed were members of one family, and a woman who was about five months pregnant and three of her children were killed.
Annabelle Renee Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of pastor Frank Pomeroy, was among the first victims to be identified. Pomeroy and his wife were out of town at the time of the shooting. The heartbroken father described his daughter to ABC News as “one very beautiful, special child.”
Kelley, 26, previously served in the U.S. Air Force and was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and his child. He received a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force due to his actions and was confined for 12 months. On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott revealed the killer had previously been denied a permit to carry a firearm.
According to officials, Kelley was first shot by an armed resident who confronted the gunman outside the church and shot him. The suspect then turned the gun on himself, and was later found dead in his vehicle.
President Donald Trump called the shooting an “act of evil.”
“We cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel and we cannot begin to imagine the suffering of those who lost the ones they love,” Trump said.
On social media, a number of faith leaders expressed their shock and horror over the mass shooting.
Joel Osteen, whose Lakewood Church is also in Texas, tweeted:
The City Church pastor Judah Smith wrote on Instagram: “At a loss for words… We are praying for the sons and daughters, the mothers and fathers who lost loved ones today and everyone affected by this horrific act. Jesus help us.”
Dr. James Dobson, founder and president of Family Talk, said: “Shirley and I are heartbroken by today’s horrific church shooting. Words cannot express the sorrow we feel for the residents of this small Texas community that has been ripped apart by a truly heinous and senseless act. Tragically, as one pastor said when interviewed, this was a demonic act of wanton murder. Indeed it was.”
“There were many other personal tragedies within this small town, where most of the residents knew each other. I grew up in that part of Texas and I loved the humble families who lived in that part of the State,” Dobson said.
“Now I ask people of faith to express their heart-felt prayers on behalf of those who are grieving. Psalm 34:18 is written for them: ‘The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.'”
Franklin Graham, CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, wrote: “My heart is heavy for the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas, who have lost more than 20 of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, and friends today in this senseless act of brutality–and some 20 more were wounded. My prayers are with this community and church.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, penned a powerful op-ed for the Washington Post on why church shootings don’t intimidate the Church.
“If they looked overhead, in almost any of the churches they attempt to destroy, these killers might see what they miss: the cross,” he wrote. “To eradicate churches, our opponents will need a better strategy. They should see that Christianity can be easier suffocated with comfort, to the point that we forget who we are, than it can be terrorized with violence. Those who try to confront the church with the threat of death only remind the church that we were dead, and are now alive in Christ.
He added, “The days ahead will be awful for the grieving community of Sutherland Springs. But one thing is certain: Come Sunday, they will be gathered again, singing and praying and opening the Word. That church will bear witness to the truth that shaped them: Eternal life cannot be overcome by death. And over that church will be a cross.”