The deadliest mass shooting in Texas history wiped out eight members of the same family on Sunday, with the killings spanning three generations.
Accused gunman Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs just as associate pastor Bryan Holcombe approached the pulpit, according to the Washington Post. Sutherland Springs is a small community about 30 miles outside of San Antonio.
Holcombe was killed in the spray of rifle fire, his parents, Joe and Claryce Holcombe, told the Post. So was his wife of about 40 years, Karla Holcombe.
One of the couple’s sons, Scott Holcombe, spoke to the New York Times Sunday night as he and his sister, Sarah Slavin, sat outside a hospital emergency room.
“This is unimaginable,” Scott Holcombe, 30, said. “My father was a good man, and he loved to preach. He had a good heart.”
Joe Holcombe told the Post that faith was in his son’s heart from the beginning.
“We knew when he was born, that he was going to be a preacher,” the 86-year-old retired teacher said. “His first word was ‘God.’”
Bryan Holcombe was filling in Sunday for First Baptist’s head pastor, Frank Pomeroy, who was out of town when the shooting occurred. Pomeroy’s own 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was also killed in the gunfire.
The Post identified the other slain Holcombe family members as:
- Marc Daniel Holcombe, Bryan and Karla Holcombe’s 36-year-old son;
- Noah Holcombe, Marc Holcombe’s 1-year-old daughter;
- Crystal Holcombe, the pregnant wife of another Holcombe son, John Holcombe;
- Three of Crystal Holcombe’s five children, Emily, Megan and Greg. Her two other children were at the church, but survived the shooting.
John Holcombe, who the Post reported teaches Sunday school at First Baptist, was injured by shrapnel. One of his daughters remained hospitalized Sunday night for injuries she suffered when someone fell on her in the chaos of the shooting.
Joe Holcombe described learning about the shooting from a friend about an hour after it took place. Initially, details of the massacre were scarce.
It was Pomeroy who broke the tragic news, the Post said.
“Bryan and Karla?” Joe Holcombe recalled asking.
“They’re both in heaven,” Pomeroy responded.
As the day wore on, Joe Holcombe and his wife learned the extent of the shooting’s toll on their family. He said that while the losses will be difficult, as Christians, he and his wife “have read the book.”
“We know the ending, and it’s good,” Joe Holcombe told the Post. “They’re in heaven, and they’re a lot better off than we are.”
The deceased family members’ various social media profiles offer visitors a blend of church and family. Bryan and Karla Holcombe’s Facebook pages are filled with photos of their children and grandchildren.
“Grandkids. It doesn’t get any better,” Bryan Holcombe wrote under a photo of 11 of his grandchildren. “I’ll wake up at night and, in prayer, thank God for each of them.
“It takes a while,” he joked.
Bryan Holcombe’s page also boasts photos of the couple, who were high school sweethearts. In some photos, they are dressed in costume for church events.
In others, Bryan Holcombe strums a ukulele, which relatives said the associate pastor would play, and sing along to, for prison inmates.
Crystal Holcombe, who homeschooled her children, also boasted about her young family online. In a post written the night before she, Emily, Megan and Greg were slain, she praised the girls for their hard work at their first 4-H food show that day, where Megan won a first-place ribbon, and Emily, a third-place ribbon.
“They’ve worked hard and learned so much. I’m very proud of them both,” Crystal Holcombe wrote. “It was a new experience for them, but they did so well.”
According to posts on her Facebook page, Crystal Holcombe and her children died three days after her family buried her grandfather.
The Holcombe family members were among 26 people killed, ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years, when Kelley started shooting around 11:20 a.m. Sunday, about 20 minutes into the weekly church service. The shooting began outside, where two of the victims were found, the Times reported.
Kelley, wearing all-black tactical gear and armed with a military-style rifle, then went inside.
The U.S. Air Force veteran, who was court-martialed in 2012 for domestic violence against his wife and child, fired at nearby residents as he left the church, the Times reported. One neighbor fired back with a rifle, apparently striking Kelley before the gunman fled.
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said Monday that Kelley called his father from his cellphone while fleeing the church and told him he’d been shot, the Times reported. The armed bystander and another man were chasing Kelley and talking to 911 dispatchers.
Kelley was later found dead in his vehicle, which he crashed in a neighboring county, the Times said. He had a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but it was not yet clear Monday morning whether he died of the bullet wound or of injuries suffered in the crash.
Tackitt said Monday that the parents of Kelley’s ex-wife attended First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, though they were not at Sunday’s service. The sheriff described the shooting as a “domestic situation.”
“We know that he had made threatening texts, and we can’t go into detail into that domestic situation that is continuing to be vetted and thoroughly investigated,” Tackitt said, according to the Times.