The US Catholic Church stands “in unity” with the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and the larger community after a shooting during Sunday services took the lives of at least 25 people and injured several more.
“A Culture of Life cannot tolerate, and must prevent, senseless gun violence in all its forms,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“We stand in unity with you in this time of terrible tragedy – as you stand on holy ground, ground marred today by horrific violence.”
He added that the “incomprehensibly tragic” event joins an ever growing list of mass shootings, some of which have been at churches while people were praying.
A 14-year-old girl, Annabelle Pomeroy, was among the dead. Her father, Frank Pomeroy, is pastor of the church but he was not at the service.
Donald Trump stated after the incident that the attacker’s mental health was to blame, not the US’s permissive gun control laws.
San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said: “I extend my prayers and the prayers of my brother bishops for the victims, the families, the first responders, our Baptist brothers and sisters, indeed the whole community of Sutherland Springs.”
The shooter was named as Devin Kelley, a white male in his 20s who received a bad conduct discharge from the US air force. He joined the Logistics Readiness department of Holloman Air Force in New Mexico in 2010.
He was court martialled in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child and spent a year in military prison. Kelley was not legally permitted to own the weapons he was discovered with, a rifle and two handguns.
Law enforcement officials said Kelley entered the church at about 11.20am Central time while 50 people were attending Sunday services. Almost everyone in the congregation was shot, with the victims ranging in age from five to 72. Sutherland Springs is 30 to 40 miles southeast of San Antonio.
Kelley was challenged and shot by a local man, who was armed, outside the church, and was found dead in his car surrounded by his illegal weapons after trying to flee. He was seen in social media posts days before the attack with an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon, the rifle used in the massacre. The state governor Greg Abbott called it the worst mass shooting in Texas history, while Freeman Martin, the regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said he believed the attack was not racially or religiously motivated.