Town hon­ors vets, shoot­ing vic­tims

Re­tired cou­ple, both 56, mourned at com­mu­nity ceme­tery

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NATION - By Claudia Lauer and Emily Sch­mall

SUTHER­LAND SPRINGS, Texas — Two white hearses car­ry­ing the bod­ies of a cou­ple killed in last week­end’s Texas church shoot­ing were fol­lowed by a long pro­ces­sion of ve­hi­cles Satur­day evening that avoided pass­ing the church where more than two dozen peo­ple were fa­tally shot.

Mourn­ers in­stead drove around the tiny com­mu­nity of Suther­land Springs be­fore reach­ing a small ceme­tery on the edge of town, where dozens more ve­hi­cles waited along a ru­ral road for the pri­vate burial of Therese and Richard Ro­driguez. Sher­iff ’s SUVs shielded mourn­ers at the ceme­tery’s three en­trances.

The ser­vices for the re­cently re­tired cou­ple fol­lowed a cer­e­mony ear­lier in the day where first re­spon­ders and law en­force­ment per­son­nel stood with heads bowed to com­mem­o­rate Veter­ans Day and to honor the shoot­ing vic­tims, nearly half of whom had ties to the Air Force.

“Maybe this will start the heal­ing process that will get Suther­land Springs and Wil­son County to put this hor­rific tragedy be­hind us and look to the fu­ture,” county Judge Richard Jack­son, his voice break­ing, told the gath­er­ing of about 100 peo­ple out­side the town’s com­mu­nity cen­ter, where a wreath was placed near flags to re­mem­ber those killed.

Jack­son, the county’s top ad­min­is­tra­tor, thanked the first re­spon­ders and oth­ers who rushed to First Bap­tist Church in the af­ter­math of Sun­day’s shoot­ing. What they saw there, he said, will af­fect them the rest of their lives.

The gun­man killed 25 peo­ple — au­thor­i­ties put the num­ber at 26 be­cause one was preg­nant — and wounded about 20 oth­ers. The gun­man died of what ap­peared to be a self-in­flicted gun­shot wound af­ter be­ing shot and chased by two men who heard gun­fire from the church.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have said the shoot­ing ap­peared to stem from a do­mes­tic dis­pute in­volv­ing the at­tacker, Devin Patrick Kel­ley, and his mother-in-law, who some­times at­tended ser­vices at the church but wasn’t there the day of the shoot­ing.

Kel­ley had a his­tory of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence: He was given a bad con­duct dis­charge from the Air Force af­ter plead­ing guilty to as­sault­ing his first wife and step­son.

Suther­land Springs is about 30 miles south­east of San An­to­nio and not far from sev­eral mil­i­tary posts, in­clud­ing Lack­land Air Force Base. The Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. David Gold­fein, said 12 of those killed were ei­ther mem­bers of the Air Force or had fam­ily ties to it.

Among them were Scott and Karen Mar­shall, both 56, who had de­cided to re­tire in nearby La Ver­nia af­ter meet­ing when they were in the ser­vice to­gether more than 30 years ago.

Re­tired Chief War­rant Of­fi­cer Mike Gon­za­les, who led Satur­day’s Veter­ans Day cer­e­mony, moved to Suther­land Springs with his wife to raise their chil­dren in 2009. He said many veter­ans choose to live in the San An­to­nio area be­cause of its deep mil­i­tary ties, and fam­i­lies tend to mi­grate to the city’s sur­round­ing ru­ral ar­eas.

“We come here to en­joy life, to get quiet and to raise our chil­dren,” he said. “We’ve been to war zones and seen that tragedy first­hand. Never did we think that tragedy would strike here.”

Eric Gay The As­so­ci­ated Press

Miguel Zamora stands a cross Satur­day for the vic­tims of the Suther­land Springs First Bap­tist Church shoot­ing at a makeshift me­mo­rial. Zamora car­ried the cross for three days to reach the Texas com­mu­nity.

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