'Evil descended on this small town': Pence visits site of Texas tragedy

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Vice President Mike Pence stood in front of the church Wednesday where an armed man snuffed out the lives of 25 people and an unborn baby. His words were to the point.

"Three days ago, evil descended on this small town," Pence said, standing with his wife on the street in front of First Baptist Church.

"Karen and I come to this place with a heavy heart," he said, noting “this hour of trial for the people of Sutherland Springs and the people of Texas."

Pence's remarks before a vigil come as the FBI continues to look for clues as to why the gunman, Devin Kelley, went on a rampage at the congregation Sunday.

The vice president called the church a special one that moved him due to its faith and resilience. Pence spoke with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at his side. 

“Faith is stronger than evil…. I’m here as Vice President to ensure that the full resources of the United States are brought to bear” at President Trump’s direction, including more than 100 onsite FBI agents.

Pence said the Air Force will deliver results of its internal investigation quickly. Kelley had been discharged from the force after having been court-martialed for a domestic assault, and a review is underway to determine why his name was not submitted to a national register that would have precluded Kelley from buying the weapons he used in the deadly assault at the church.

The killer, Pence said, committed a crime by even buying the rifle used Sunday. “He lied on his application. He had a history of mental illness, and there were bureaucratic failures,” Pence said. “We will find out why this information was not properly reported in 2012 and we are working with leaders in Congress to ensure this never happens again.”

Pence and Abbott shook hands before and after remarks. Pence hugged the pastor and the heroes, as did others.

Abbott drew cheers and amens when he announced that this Sunday would be “a day of prayer all across the state of Texas.”

“It is righteous and right that we gather here tonight,” Abbott said, before describing visits with Pence and others at the hospital where survivors are healing.

“I know there is nothing that I can say … that will heal this community,” he added.

The wives of Pence and Abbott joined the officials in going from table to table at the Floresville High School library to meet with the families of those killed. Floresville is the Wilson County seat and the closest town of significant size to Sutherland Springs.

Pence spoke to John Holcombe, whose parents, wife, three of her children, a brother and a niece died Sunday. Holcombe and his wife’s 7-year-old daughter, Evelyn, managed to run out of the church. Holcombe was treated for shrapnel injuries and released from the hospital Monday.

“We are with you," Pence told people at the high school as they sat in the bleachers of the school’s football stadium.

“Words fail when saints and heroes fall,” Pence said. “We gather tonight to offer our deepest condolences and I offer the condolences of the American people to all of those affected by the horrific attack that took place just three days ago.”

He called Sunday’s shooting the worst mass shooting in a place of worship in American history.

“I know the cherished names of the fallen will live on forever in the hearts of those who knew them, and let me assure you, their names will also be enshrined in the hearts of every American forever,” Pence said, before naming some of those shot to death in Sunday’s shooting.

About 30 minutes before the vigil was to begin, Rick and Joni Huber and their five children were among hundreds filing toward the grandstands. For them, the vigil was personal as well as spiritual. For the past 10 years, Rick Huber has been the heating and air conditioning specialist at the church and got to know many of the congregants.

He also knows Sutherland Springs Baptist Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, whose 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among the dead.

“My daughter is 14,” he said. “So this is very real to me.”

Alison Gould, 17, placed a stuffed animal on the edge of a roped off area near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs Wednesday. Over the past few days a collection of flowers, hand drawn posters and other mementos has accumulated there.

Alison was there to remember her best friend Haley Krueger, 16, who was among the others who died from gunfire.

Alison was on her way home from church in an another town when she got the news that her friend was involved in the shooting and headed to Sutherland Springs.

“I just was hoping then that she was just hiding scared,” Alison said. “We got here and I kept telling them that I hoped she would just come out of the bushes.”

Alison described her friend as kind and fun loving with aspirations to become a nurse.

“She loved babies, especially her little nephew,” said the girl, adding that the nephew is a year and a half old.

CONTRIBUTING: Eleanor Dearman of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times