MCALLEN, RGV – South Texas elected officials who represent Sutherland Springs and Wilson County, including U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, say it is time for a national conversation about curbing gun violence.
The New York Times reports that “a gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church.” It happened at the First Baptist Church in in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday morning.
Calling it the nation’s “newest mass horror,” the New York Times reports that at least 26 people were killed, with at least 20 injured. The youngest victim was five and the oldest 72.
The gunman was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. Mr. Kelley, who lived in New Braunfels, Texas, died shortly after the attack, the New York Times reports.
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“Mass shootings like this one have become too common, and it is well past time for our country and state to do more to protect our families and our communities from gun violence and help prevent similar tragedies,” said Sen. Zaffirini, in a statement. Zaffirini, D-Laredo, represents Wilson County in the state Senate.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the good people of Sutherland Springs and Wilson County. It is definitely a tragedy in our community and something we would never have expected,” Congressman Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said on MSNBC.
“I do not suspect this is terrorism. I suspect this is something other incident having to do with the church or the community.”
Gonzalez, who represents Wilson County in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he is concerned that publicity from these types of incidents across the country might excite more violence.
“It is happening regularly across the country and I think we have to analyze this in Congress and see what we need do. Since I arrived in Congress this year I have talking about limiting magazine capacity in guns and this is just another incident, probably the fourth or fifth this year that could have been, if not prevented then certainly the damage diminished greatly if we had just made small changes to the gun laws that we have right now,” Gonzalez said.
Asked what type of community Sutherland Springs is, Gonzalez said: “It is a rural community, it is a very conservative community. It is a very safe area in my district, it is a very quiet, mostly farmers and ranchers and some folks that work out in the oil and gas patches. It is very tranquil and very safe. This is certainly very, very, odd to have something like this occur in one of our rural communities in my district. We are all in shock at this time.”
Gonzalez told MSNBC that the mass shooting in his district follows similar incidents in Orlando, Florida, San Bernardino, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada, “where you have just high magazine capacities.” Calling for a national conversation about gun laws, Gonzalez said: “If they were limited, people would still have gun ownership rights to those type of guns but you would know that, hey, after eight bullets are shot, that person would have to switch clips and recharge, and certainly it would have limited the fatalities and injuries in all the incidents I just mentioned and I think this is something we need to pay close attention to and it is something I think the NRA, on the other extreme, should take a look at and try to be reasonable and try to find ways to bring more safety to the American people.”
Asked if the shooting in Sutherland Springs could have been avoided had churchgoers had been carrying weapons, Gonzalez said: “It is certainly sad we have come to this time where we need armed personnel in our places of worship. This is a place where maybe this community would leave their gun in the truck. Honestly speaking. It is a tragic situation. It is something we need to start having a national conversation with. It crosses demographic lines. It crosses whether it is rural or urban. And it is across the country and it is something where we need to have a very serious national conversation about.”
Asked about the demographics of Wilson County, Gonzalez said: “It is White, Anglo-Saxon, protestant community with a minority of Mexican-Americans that live there. It is a very safe place to live and work and visit. What has happened today certainly does not fit the character of this community.”
Later, Gonzalez issued this statement:
“My heart goes out to those affected by today’s shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that has left multiple people dead and many more injured. As one of the representatives for Wilson County, this senseless tragedy hits close to home and feels deeply personal. I thank all first responders for acting swiftly to address this unfortunate situation and will continue to be in contact with the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies as more details become available. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families and the fine people of Sutherland Springs and Wilson County.”
State Sen. José Rodríguez, who was born in South Texas but now represents El Paso in the Texas Senate, issued this statement on Monday:
“Neither prayers nor arming churchgoers as called for by the state’s Attorney General makes us safer. It is time Texans insist on common sense gun regulations. The Attorney General said to a national broadcast audience that ‘this is going to happen again,’ as though we should just accept that increasingly frequent, random mass shootings in public places is part of our culture. I will not accept that, and I find it appalling that he and too many others proffer “thoughts and prayers” as a shield for the status quo instead of doing their jobs and working for solutions.”
Sen. Zaffirini issued a revised statement on Monday which included information on how to donate to the Sutherland Springs Shooting Fund. Here is the statement:
“I am horrified by the shooting that took the lives of 26 worshipers at their church on Sunday (Nov. 6) and injured at least 20 others in Sutherland Springs in Senate District 21. This tragedy was especially sickening because the victims included children and because it happened in a place that is meant to be a sanctuary—a place of worship. I join residents of Wilson County and our state in praying for the victims, their families, and the community and in thanking not only the law enforcement officers, citizens, and first responders who risked their lives and rushed to the dangerous scene, but also the medical personnel from Connally Memorial Medical Center and other health care facilities.
“Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, Texas Rangers, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt and local law enforcement officers are collaborating with the FBI and ATF investigators to determine what triggered this horrific mass assault on innocent people. My family, staff, and I will help in any way possible.”
“It is important that those impacted by mass shootings know they can reach out for support. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services operates a 24-7 bilingual disaster distress helpline (800/985-5990), which provides immediate crisis counseling to persons experiencing emotional distress after a traumatic event. What’s more, the Red Cross operates a disaster assistance hotline(866/526-8300, Option 3) and is coordinating closely with local and state officials and community partners to help support the community and victims’ families. My staff is in Wilson County today and also is available via 512/463-0121 to help connect SD 21 constituents with resources.
“Those seeking to help families impacted by the shooting can join me in donating to the Sutherland Springs Shooting Fund (https://www.gofundme.com/SutherlandSprings) or a fund to benefit the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (https://www.gofundme.com/SSFBC). Connally Medical Center is not currently taking blood donations, but the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center in San Antonio needs blood donations, especially type O and platelets (https://southtexasblood.org/).
“Mass shootings like this one have become too common, and it is well past time for our country and state to do more to promote mental health and to protect our families and our communities from gun violence and help prevent similar tragedies.”
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, used to represent Wilson County in Congress. He issued this statement:
“While many of the details are yet to be determined, clearly what happened today in Sutherland Springs is a horrific tragedy. I have spoken personally with Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt, Jr. and Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez, Jr. and offered the full resources of my office to assist in any way possible both now and as we move forward. I have known and worked with the sheriff for many years. He is an outstanding sheriff and an outstanding individual. My job now is to make sure that he and the people of Sutherland Springs have access to every resource available to them, and I will make sure that they have everything they need.
“Sutherland Springs has a special place in my heart. It is one of those unique communities where everyone knows everyone else and supports each other. I can recall local fundraisers at the volunteer fire department where basically everyone in the entire area would come out to support those volunteers. We hold monthly neighborhood office hours in Sutherland Springs to make sure that we stay connected to the community as closely as possible.
“The people of Sutherland Springs are as fine an example of Texans and Americans as you will find anywhere in the country. My staff and I have always been there for Wilson County and Sutherland Springs, and we will continue to be there for them as we get through this tragedy together.”
Texas Gun Sense, a statewide nonprofit and nonpartisan organization advocating for common sense, evidence-based policies to reduce gun injuries and deaths, said it was deeply saddened and outraged by the shooting in Sutherland Springs.
“Our hearts go out to those affected by this shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX and we stand with them in this tragedy and later in trying to understand and prevent such senseless violence,” said Gyl Switzer, Executive Director of Texas Gun Sense.
Switzer said gun violence is a public health crisis in Texas and the United States. “Texas Gun Sense advocates for common sense evidence-based policies that reduce gun injuries and deaths. Every incident like the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas is an indication that action is needed now in communities across the state and nation.”
The Texas State Rifle Association, which was formed in 1919 and has 37,000 members, issued this statement:
“Today the Texas State Rifle Association joins with all Texans to hold in our hearts and in our prayers the 26 people who lost their lives and others who were injured at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
“The lone gunman is deceased and first reports are that he was stopped by a neighbor of the church.
“We thank Texas Governor Greg Abbott for going to the scene to comfort and to investigate. We also thank the various law enforcement agencies involved in the ongoing investigation including the Wilson County Sheriff, the Bexar County District Attorney, the Texas Rangers, DPS, the FBI, BATF, and others.
Governor Abbott has been contacted by President Trump, by Texas Senators Cruz and Cornyn, and by members of the Texas Legislature.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Carrie Matula hugging a woman who lost her father in a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Matula said she saw and heard everything as it happened from the gas station where she works just a block away. (Photo: Nick Wagner/American-Statesman via AP)