Vice President Pence visits small Texas community after deadly shooting: NPR


On the day that Vice President Pence travels to Sutherland Springs, Texas to console the victims of Sunday’s church shooting, townspeople are still reacting and reflecting on what happened to the small community.



KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Texas authorities have released a list of those who died in the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. The 26 victims include eight children, three generations of the same family and a pregnant woman who, according to Texas law, counts as two victims. Community members are also reacting to news that the shooter was court-martialed by the Air Force for assaulting his wife and baby son-in-law, but that information was never captured in an FBI database. He should have banned him from buying a gun from a federal gun dealer.

NPR’s John Burnett joins us from Stockdale, which is just down the road from Sutherland Springs. Hi John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So what are people saying about this new information?

BURNETT: Well, people here in Wilson County are understandably angry. It’s a really pro-gun area, but people believe in playing by the rules. With this court martial, the shooter should have failed the mandatory federal background check when he purchased some of his guns from an academy store in San Antonio. That’s not to say he couldn’t have bought a gun from an individual seller at a gun show. I spoke with Albert Gamez Jr. He is a county commissioner who personally knew several of the victims.

ALBERT GAMEZ JR: Here, I know that if it’s an assault – especially against domestic violence, it’s a crime here. I mean, I get that’s why a lot of people are upset. I mean, how can he – can he go buy a gun when you already have something like that in your locker, particularly violent – domestic violence?

MCEVERS: Right, because under federal law, if you’re convicted of domestic violence, you’re not supposed to own a gun.

BURNET: That’s right.

MCEVERS: What else do you hear from people there?

BURNETT: Well, we have part of an interview conducted by Joey Palacios of member station KSTX in San Antonio. He spoke at length with Lagena Garcia. She and her family live less than two blocks from the whitewashed Baptist Church where the shooting took place. On Sunday morning, when she heard the shots, she grabbed her three children with two of her own guns and hid in her bathroom for an hour. She was baptized in the church. She says she was part of the congregation. And she still sees it as the center of community life.

LAGENA GARCIA: It really bothers me that – I don’t want this to turn into something that, you know, is going to completely scare this community for the rest of the story, so that it’s, you know – oh, it’s was the biggest massacre. I don’t want it to fall like this.

MCEVERS: And John, who else did you talk to there?

BURNETT: Today I met with Pastor John Conrad. He has the pulpit of the first Lutheran church in Floresville. We talked in his church office while outside his parishioners were wrapping Christmas presents for foster children. Conrad has a unique perspective on the church shooting, which I’ll get to in a moment. But first, let’s listen to this tape cut in which he responds to people who are staunchly saying that good will somehow come out of this tragic event.

JOHN CONRAD: And that’s true, but the first reality is the reality of the evil that we’re dealing with. And you know, people like to think that evil doesn’t exist, but I dare you to have an experience like this and then tell me.

BURNETT: And Pastor Conrad is visibly shaken by the presence of evil these days.

MCEVERS: And you said he had a unique perspective on it. What did you mean by that?

BURNETT: John Conrad happened to pastor a Lutheran church in Parker, Colorado, a suburb of Denver not far from Columbine High School. He was among the clergy who responded to the mass shooting at the school in 1999. Twelve students and a teacher were murdered. He was deeply touched by the experience, as you can imagine, and was among the local clergy who ran to Sutherland Springs Baptist Church on Sunday morning.

CONRAD: It’s the same thing. It’s hysteria, shock, people, you know, screaming in disbelief and – you know, as a pastor, I’m doing funerals all the time. But it’s like you get the whole lot at once. You know, it’s – and when you have families that lose multiple members, it’s really heavy.

MCEVERS: This is Pastor John Conrad and John Burnett from NPR. Thank you so much.

BURNETT: With pleasure, Kelly.

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