Pall of mas­sacre at church shrouds town’s Veterans Day

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Nation + World - By Clau­dia Lauer and Emily Sch­mall

First re­spon­ders and law en­force­ment personnel stood with heads bowed Satur­day in Suther­land Springs for a Veterans Day cer­e­mony that also was­meant to honor the more than two dozen peo­ple killed a block away at a church.

About 100 peo­ple at­tended the cer­e­mony out­side the town’s com­mu­nity cen­ter, where a wreath was placed near flags to re­mem­ber those killed in last week­end’s mass shoot­ing, 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 told the gath­er­ing, his voice break­ing.

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 will af­fect them the rest of their lives, he said.

The at­tacker, Devin Pa­trick Kel­ley, killed 25 peo­ple — au­thor­i­ties put the num­ber at 26 be­cause one was preg­nant — and wounded 20 oth­ers. Kel­ley, 26, 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. Au­thor­i­ties haven’t dis­cussed a pos­si­ble mo­tive.

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. On Thurs­day, a mil­i­tary fu­neral was held for them at Joint Base San Antonio-Ran­dolph.

Re­tired Chief War­rant Of­fi­cer Mike Gon­za­les, who led Satur­day’s cer­e­mony, moved to Suther­land Springs with his wife in 2009 to raise their chil­dren. 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, later ad­ding, “We’ve been to war zones and seen that tragedy first­hand. Never did we think that tragedy would strike here.”

U. S. Rep. Henry Cuel­lar of Texas told the gath­er­ing to lean on one an­other for sup­port as the town at­tempts to heal. He said $10 mil­lion in fed­eral as­sis­tance has been secured to help cover over­time costs for law en­force­ment agen­cies in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Some in the crowd Satur­day wore shirts that said “Suther­land Springs Strong” and in­cluded an out­line of Texas with a heart of the town’s lo­ca­tion. The shirts were do­nated by Brenda Bierd, who lives on the Gulf Coast and whose home was dam­aged by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey in late Au­gust.

Bierd said she has work that needs to be done gut­ting her home, but she felt com­pelled to drive to Suther­land Springs a few days ago to of­fer her sup­port.

“I hadn’t even heard of Suther­land Springs be­fore the shoot­ing, but this is what you do,” she said. “I just had this feel­ing I needed to be here.”

The gun­man, Kel­ley, also had Air Force ties — he was given a bad con­duct dis­charge after plead­ing guilty to as­sault­ing his then-wife and son.

ERIC GAY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

First re­spon­ders join in prayer fol­low­ing a Veterans Day event on Satur­day near the Suther­land Springs First Bap­tist Church in Suther­land Springs, Texas. A man opened fire in­side the church in the small South Texas com­mu­nity Nov. 5, killing more than two dozen peo­ple.

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