One of the victims who died during a shooting at a Texas church Sunday lost her life while shielding her children from the spray of bullets.
Joann Ward was attending Sunday morning services with her four children at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, when Devin Kelley, 26, walked in and opened fire on parishioners. Ward died in the attack, as did two of her daughters, Brooke Ward, 5, and Emily Garza, 7. But one of her surviving children said her mother died a hero, the New York Post reported.
Rihanna Garza, 9, escaped the attack without injury, though a bullet struck her glasses, knocking them off of her face. After the attack, she told family friend Vonda Greek Smith, “I didn’t get shot because I was hiding, and Mama covered Emily, Ryland and Brooke.”
One of the children, whom Rihanna said Joann covered during the attack, was 5-year-old Ryland Ward. The little boy is fighting for his life in the hospital after sustaining severe injuries in the attack. He is currently in stable condition following surgery to his groin, arm and stomach after sustaining at least four gunshot wounds.
“They got him all cut open from the gunshots,” his uncle, Michael Ward, said after tearing up. “I don’t think he’s going to make it.”
According to Dallas News, Michael Ward’s wife, Leslie Ward, woke him up after hearing shots ring out as she was setting up a yard sale. Their house is only a few blocks from the church. Word traveled quickly that there was a shooter inside of the church, prompting Michael and Leslie Ward to rush over to the house of Chris Ward, Michael Ward’s brother and Joann Ward’s husband.
Chris Ward stayed home from church that morning after working the night shift.
He thought his brother was lying when he told him what was going on.
“I’m not lying to you, Chris, they’re all shot,” Michael Ward recalled saying, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Michael Ward told Buzzfeed News the number of young victims was so high because “the kids were all in the back” of the church.
“They had just come in from Sunday school. All of (them) in the back,” he said.