Sunday, the First Baptist Church of the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, near San Antonio, was the target of the deadliest church shooting in US history. A gunman dressed in black combat gear and a ballistic vest entered the church during morning services and opened fire on the unarmed worshipers with a Ruger AR rifle. He killed 26 people, ranging from small children to a 72-year-old woman, and injured 24 more. He was later identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley of New Braunfels.
After fleeing the church, Kelley was accosted by an unnamed neighbor who had heard the shooting, grabbed his rifle and rushed to intervene. The two exchanged fire, and Kelley dropped his weapon, got into his truck and sped off. But local resident Johnnie Landendorff had seen the exchange from his truck. He picked up the Good Samaritan gun owner, and the two gave chase at up to 95 mph, calling the police as they drove. Kelley lost control and crashed into a ditch. Police found him dead from a gunshot wound that was later confirmed to be self-inflicted. He had other weapons in the car, and it’s likely he would have killed even more people if the neighbors hadn’t intervened. Both men are being hailed as heroes.
At this writing, the motives for the attack are not yet clear. Kelley had a history of violence, having been given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force among other punishments for assaulting his wife and child. He reportedly had no known terrorist ties. His Facebook page has been deleted, but authorities have the archived version and are combing his posts for clues. His banner photo was of an assault rifle. There was also a claim that his Linked-in page said he’d taught summer Bible school.
The Daily Mail spoke to former classmates who described Kelley as an “outcast,” “creepy,” “crazy” and “weird.” Some said he aggressively preached atheism, didn’t like Texas, and said that people who believe in God were stupid. There was a report that his Facebook page included “Likes” for various atheist activist groups. Could the fact that Sunday was the well-publicized International Day of Prayer have had something to do with the timing?
Before we knew anything at all about who the shooter was, what his motives were, or if this was a straight-up terrorist attack, some politicians and celebrities were already rushing to Twitter to politicize the tragedy, blame Republicans and call for more gun control laws. It was apparently lost upon them that he might have chosen his victims for the likelihood that they would be unarmed in church, and that his rampage was stopped not by the police but by a neighbor who intervened with his personal firearm.
At a time like this, our first thoughts, after shock and horror, should be what we can do to help the victims. Sadly, some of the more strident voices on the left mocked the idea of offering prayers, pointing out that the victims were praying when they were attacked, so prayer doesn’t help. That’s a shallow and cynical attitude, but I doubt they can understand why. They’re looking for something easy to blame – the shooter’s political beliefs, or better yet, the weapon he chose (a killer in New York City just murdered eight people with a rented truck; the chosen tool is irrelevant.) From their secular urban enclaves, they can’t understand why people in towns like Sutherland Springs believe in prayer. They don’t understand that there is a force in the world called “evil,” and some people are prey to it. For whatever reason or under whatever influence, they make a conscious choice to embrace evil and unleash it onto others.
One witness to the attack told reporters, "We just did what we do. We prayed…The Bible tells us that we overcome evil with good, and evil doesn't overcome evil."
Those of us who believe in the power of prayer will continue to pray for the victims and their families, for comfort for the loved ones left behind and healing for the wounded, that they be made whole and healthy again. And we’ll continue to pray that good will triumph over evil in people’s hearts, and there will be no more such obscene and tragic attacks. And we'll pray that when people like this start going off the right path that others will notice, speak up and intervene before they turn violent. Whatever Kelley’s motives for his horrific act might turn out to be, if he thought that he was going to destroy faith by attacking people of faith, then he was as wrong as he was evil.
At the link, more reactions to the shooting, including words from President Trump.
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