SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TEXAS - The gunman who killed 26 people at a rural Texas church targeted churchgoers who made noise and shot crying children at point-blank range, survivors say.
Roseanne Solis told KSAT-TV in San Antonio that Sunday's service at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs began amid smiles and joyous singing. Then, suddenly, tragedy.
"I hear firecrackers popping,” Solis said. "Everybody started screaming, yelling. Everyone got down, crawling under wherever they could hide. It was so scary."
The shooting was coming from outside the church. Solis said she was hit in the shoulder. She and her husband, Joaquin Ramirez, were bloodied and played dead, watching as fellow parishioners were felled in the hail of bullets.
When the shooting stopped, she thought police might have arrived. It was actually the gunman, 26-year-old Devin Kelley, entering the church.
"Everyone was saying ‘Be quiet. It's him. It's him.’ Then he yelled out, ‘Everybody die (expletive),’ and he started shooting again," she said.
Ramirez, who was hit by shrapnel, told the station the gunman shot the church's camera crew — services are normally posted online — then moved to the center aisle toward the front. Aisle by aisle, the gunman fired away.
Farida Brown, 73, was hiding in the back pew, her son David Brown said.
"She stayed on the ground the whole time — never saw him, just saw his boots as he walked around the church," Brown said.
Ramirez said he made eye contact with the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, who was crying out for help. He signaled with his finger for her to be quiet, knowing the gunman was listening for sounds and shooting whoever made them.
Other crying children were shot at point-blank range, witnesses said. The youngest victim was only 18 months old.
The gunman eventually reached the back pew, where he shot the woman next to Farida Brown multiple times, David Brown said. His mother thought "her life was about to end," but Kelley's attention was drawn away and he retreated to the front of the church, Brown said.
Ramirez said he finally crawled out of the church amid the smoke and gunfire and called 911. Kelley left before help arrived, but a neighbor engaged him in a gunfight. Shot twice, Kelley fled in his SUV.
Kelley was found a short time later in the crashed vehicle, dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, authorities said.
"The Lord saved me, because I know it was my last day," Solis said.
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