In a year in which we’ve repeatedly seen the horrors of mass shootings, Sunday gave us another reason for us to mourn. During a service at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire and killed at least 26 people and injured dozens more. As officials work to determine the motives of Kelley – who was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child – we’re slowly learning about the victims of his horrific act of domestic terrorism.
7-year-old Emily Garza had just started attending the church. On Sunday, she chose to sit in the back row of the church upon returning from Sunday school. Her grandmother, Sandy Ward, described her as a sunny girl. “She was just such a good little girl,” Sandy said, according to BuzzFeed. “She was so helpful. She would help. Anything you asked her to do, she was always happy and cheerful.”
Emily died after four hours of surgery. Her siblings, Ryland and Brooke Ward, and mother, Joann – who attempted to shield Brooke – were also injured. Dallas News reports that Brooke and Joann also died. 30-year-old Joann often posted pictures of her children and family members on Facebook.
The tragedy delivered a huge blow to one family, but also to the town, which in 2000, was home to just 362. As this strip of land beside the US Highway 87 is catapulted to the national spotlight, people are speaking about the inclusive nature of the community and the church, which welcomed Latinos and other Spanish speakers. Sydney Powell, who used to belong to the church, stated, “Many of German descent, lots of farmers, Mexican folks – it was a true place of unity. Beautiful place.”