Sutherland Springs massacre of 26 horrifies rural Texas community


Isabelle Del Rosario/Southwest Shadow

This cartoon is syndicated from the Southwest Shadow, the newspaper of the Southwest Career and Technical Academy in Las Vegas, Nevada.

by Kathy Fang, Kaitlin Hsu, and Tiffany Wong

A gunman opened fire at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas during the facility’s weekly song and prayer service, killing at least 26 and wounding at least 20 on Nov. 5.

San Antonio hospitals are coordinating with trauma centers to move those wounded in the shooting to facilities where they can receive medical care for their injuries and help victims and their families reach counseling resources. The shooting victims range from 5 to 72 years old.

“May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan,” President Donald Trump tweeted the day of the shooting. Vice President Mike Pence visited Sutherland Springs on Nov. 8 to meet with local police and deliver remarks at a vigil for shooting victims and their families.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has identified the gunman as Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old white male who previously served on the United States Air Force before being convicted of domestic assault and released on a Bad Conduct Discharge.

Wearing a ballistic vest and armed with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle, an assault style rifle modeled after those in the military, Kelley began firing at the church at around 11:30 a.m. and entered the building soon after. He was confronted by a local resident outside the building and dropped his weapon during the altercation, fleeing the scene in his car with the resident in pursuit. Law enforcement officials found Kelley dead at the Wilson-Guadalupe county line, where he veered off the road and crashed.

“As a state, we are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press conference on the day of the shooting. “The tragedy, of course, is worsened by the fact that it occurred in a church, a place of worship, where these people were innocently gunned down.”

Texas law follows the federal law, which permits the purchase of semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-556 but prohibits those convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms under the Lautenberg Amendment, passed in 1996.

According to a press release from the Department of Defense on Nov. 6, Kelley was found guilty of two domestic assault charges against his wife and stepson in 2012, information which may not have been properly entered into the National Criminal Information Center database, allowing Kelley to purchase the rifle used in the shooting. The Air Force is currently conducting investigations into its databases to ensure no other breaches in records have occurred.

“Somebody was talking about it in [research] class, mostly along that lines of like, ‘Oh this happened,’ but at this point, it’s seriously not surprising,” Rice University student Sapna Suresh (‘14) said. “It’s a state where there’s such a large proportion of people who always had guns. It’s just something that’s not totally out of the field.”

Texas law also permits concealed carry on certain premises, including both public and private institutions of higher education. Licensed holders are allowed to carry a concealed handgun on campus, but colleges and universities are given the choice to establish further regulations, such as the prohibition of open carry, on campus.

“I know that of course UT is very strict about their gun policies now that we have concealed carry or closed carry. We’ve been sent multiple emails about… what is acceptable and what is not,” University of Texas at Austin student Nikhil Bopardikar (‘16) said. “I would say I don’t think there’s really been a impact on that just because [only law] can change that, but of course there has been lots of debate online about gun control policies and what we have to do about it.”

The shooting at Sunderland Springs comes five weeks after the Las Vegas shooting, where 64-year-old gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 and wounded 527 at a country music concert near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. It follows a series of 378 mass shootings throughout the United States in 2017, including the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs shootings.

“I don’t know how realistic it is because this is a pretty Republican state… but I think for stuff like this a ban on assault weapons would be really helpful,” Suresh said. “At a point last year, around midnight, there were some people who weren’t students and they actually were shooting at people at with BB guns. I mean, that’s not an actual bullet but it still hurts, and when they caught the people, they found an actual gun in their car.”

These recent shootings have sparked reconsiderations of gun policies across the nation. While some turn to the government for new legislation, others look towards individual actions for protection.

“We have to wait it out and see politics assess it to determine [how] to solve something,” Bopardikar said. “Or we just have to make smart decisions and try to be more defensive and safe.”

A shorter version of this piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on November 16, 2017.