SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas >> Three thousand people today mourned eight members of a family who were among the more than two dozen killed in a shooting at a small Texas church before the funeral procession headed to a cemetery near the site of the massacre.
Surrounding the multicolored caskets, mourners released light pink and blue balloons at a graveside service for the Holcombe family in rural Wilson County.
Church member and survivor John Holcombe had invited the public to attend the funeral of his pregnant wife, Crystal, 36, and three of her children from a previous marriage, Greg Hill, 13, Emily Hill, 11, and Megan Hill, 9; his parents, 60-year-old Bryan and Karla Holcombe, 58; a brother, 36-year-old Marc Holcombe, and Marc’s 18-month-old daughter, Noah.
Fire marshals had to turn hundreds more people away from the services at an events center in Floresville, Texas, about 12 miles from the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where the Nov. 5 shooting occurred.
News reporters were barred from entering the event center and were being held in a pen with two trucks obscuring the view inside.
In an earlier Facebook post, John Holcombe thanked friends and well-wishers for their support, adding: “Please continue to pray for us.”
The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, began firing into First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs as Bryan Holcombe, an assistant pastor, ascended to the pulpit. Walking up and down the center aisle, Kelley killed 25 people at the church, including crying babies at point-blank range, according to witness accounts. Authorities have put the official toll at 26, because Crystal Holcombe was pregnant.
John Holcombe was managing the church’s audio-visual operations at the back of the building when gunfire erupted. He and Crystal’s 7-year-old daughter Evelyn escaped the barrage. Crystal’s eldest child, 14-year-old Philip, had stayed home from church services that day.
After his rampage, Kelley fled in a vehicle parked near the church, pursued by a barefoot observer with an AR assault rifle and another man in a pick-up truck. The man with the rifle shot and struck Kelley but authorities say the gunman died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Investigators have said the attack appeared to stem from a domestic dispute Kelley was having with his mother-in-law, a member of the church who wasn’t present that day. However, among the victims was Lula White, the gunman’s wife’s 71-year-old grandmother.
Kelley had a history of domestic violence: He was given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force after pleading guilty to assaulting his first wife and stepson.
Under federal law, anyone convicted of domestic violence cannot purchase a firearm. But the Air Force failed to inform federal law enforcement authorities that Kelley had been court-martialed. When he tried to buy guns after his release from a military prison, his conviction was not in the database used to conduct background checks, and the purchases went through.
In addition to those killed, another 20 people were injured in the shooting. Eight survivors remained hospitalized today at two San Antonio-area hospitals, their conditions ranging from good to critical.