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Texas church shooting leaves at least 26 dead, Trump calls it an ‘act of evil’

A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community, killing 26 people and wounding about 20 others.

world Updated: Nov 06, 2017 10:08 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Texas church shooting,Texas,Mass shooting
A resident of Sutherland Springs Mona Rodriguez holds her 12-year-old son during a candlelight vigil held for the victims of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Texas on Sunday.(AP)

A lone gunman opened fire with an assault rifle on a church congregation during Sunday morning service killing at least 26 people and wounding as many in a small town in San Antonio, Texas.

The incident is the latest in a string of mass shootings that bring into focus liberal gun rules in United States, which was last rattled a month ago when a man fired into a concert in Las Vegas using heavy weapons.

Sunday’s victims ranged in age from five to 72. Authorities said 23 people died inside the church, two outside and one in the hospital. Some of the 20 people injured were in serious condition.

Though authorities described the shooter as only a “young white male in his early-20s”, news reports identified him as Devin P Kelley, a 26-year-old from Houston. He once served with the US air force, in logistics and taught toddlers in an elementary school.

Dressed in all-black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, on Sunday, he was seen leaving his vehicle at a gas station at about 11:20 am. He began shooting at the church as he approached it, and continued as he circled to its right and entered, still shooting, as the Sunday service was under way inside.

As he exited the church, an armed local resident fired at him. Freeman Martin, an official of department of public safety, told reporters that at this point, the shooter dropped his weapon, got into his car and fled. But his car ran off the road a short distance later and crashed. He was found dead inside. Martin said it was not clear yet if the assailant died of wounds from the shot fired at him by the resident.

The shooter had used a Ruger AR assault rifle in the attack, and had many more weapons, of unspecified kinds, in his vehicle.

His motivation remained unclear.

Investigators work at the scene of a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (AP)

Sutherland Springs is a small rural community of about 680 people — residents told reporters it was a place where nothing ever happened and everyone knew everyone. And the church, of the protestant First Baptist Church that is the second largest religious grouping in the US after Roman Catholics, was a place for friends to gather and meet every weekend.

“May God be w/ (with) the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan,” President Donald Trump wrote in a post on Twitter from Tokyo, where he reached on Sunday to begin his 12-day, five-nation Asia tour.

“This act of evil occurred as the victims and their families were in their place of worship. Our hearts are broken,” he said.

He made a longer statement later, but did not address the one question Americans ask after every such mass shooting: Does the United States need to tighten its gun laws, as have all developed nations, to prevent mass killings that claim more lives every year than terrorism?

Map locating Sutherland Springs in Texas, where a gunman shot dead at least 20 worshippers during Sunday morning services at a Baptist church. (AFP)

Some Americans responded to the news of the shooting with numbing weariness. “Once again, we will pray and mourn the fallen,” David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s political strategist and political commentator, wrote on Twitter. “Our leaders will express the grief of the nation. And do nothing.”

Critics noted that President Trump was quick to point to policy issues such as the diversity visa lottery programme and the need for tighter vetting after the Manhattan terrorist attack last week, but will likely duck gun laws issues, as he did after the Las Vegas shooting, the worst in US history, on October 1.

Stephen Paddock, a high-stakes regular at casinos, had fatally shot 58 people and wounded more than 500 using an arsenal of rifles, some of which were souped-up to shoot at a quicker rate, from his room in a hotel overlooking an open-air country music festival. His motives remain unclear.

Asked about gun safety laws at the time, the president said there will be time for that discussion, but later. He never got around to it.

Though not always a gun-rights enthusiast, he has found it politically expedient from the time he entered the race for the White House to portray himself as one to stay on the right side of both the Republican party’s base and the National rifle Association (NRA). The NRA leads the powerful gun lobby that has stymied every attempt to reform laws, even those backed by conservative gun owners.

First Published: Nov 06, 2017 06:49 IST