Of all the mass shootings to shock our country in the last several decades, few have placed a greater stress on the community they afflicted than last Sunday’s church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, population 600.
The First Baptist Church, where the shooting transpired, was a hub of the town, which spans just a few square blocks. The building was badly damaged by some of the 450 rounds the gunman unleashed from the high-capacity magazines of his assault-style rifle. Then there are the emotional scars, for which there is no easy patch. With 25 worshipers killed, including a woman who was pregnant, and another 20 wounded, the casualties account for nearly half of the 100-person congregation.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose daughter was killed in the attack, has told representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention that the two-decade-old structure will be demolished.
Pomeroy said he hoped the site could be turned into a memorial to the victims, but only once congregants “had a chance to fully deal with the grief and then come together to make a decision,” a spokesman for the convention told USA Today.
The death of more than two dozen people in a single morning strained the capacity of the town’s cemetery. Bertha Cardenas-Lomas, the head of the Sutherland Springs cemetery board is scrambling to figure out a schedule that avoids overlapping services. Dallas funeral directors are donating hearses for the extraordinary number of burials. The cemetery typically has 15 burials, at most, in an entire year.
“This feels like a terrifying, crushing nightmare,” Cardenas-Lomas told the New York Times, “except that I’m somehow awake.”
The town is also feeling the crush of national media attention that follows these attacks. Press scrums and cameras surrounded grieving residents. There was no respite; in a town so small, everyone was a potential source, and no one could get away from story-hungry reporters.
The ordeal disturbed reporter Lauren McGaughy of the Dallas Morning News. She penned an apology to the town, in which she asked those of us in the media to search for “a better way to cover a tragedy like this.”
McGaughy was invited into the home of the Ward family, who lost several members in the attack. She wrote that the sense of professional triumph she felt watching the Wards turn away other reporters who showed up at their door after her — “I got the story” — quickly curdled into self-disgust.
“It was an invasion,” she wrote. “It was too much.”
On Sunday, the church will hold its first service since the massacre, in a community center next door.