Town honors vets, shooting victims
Retired couple, both 56, mourned at community cemetery
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.”
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.