SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding at least 16 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.
Authorities didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials — one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.
The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.
In a brief statement, the Pentagon confirmed he had served in the Air Force "at one point." Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said records show that Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge.
Stefanek said Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on one count of assault on his spouse and another count of assault on their child and discharged two years later. He received a bad conduct discharge, 12 months' confinement and a reduction in rank.
At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the First Baptist Church around 11:20 a.m.
The gunman crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled. As he left, he was confronted by an armed resident who chased him. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line, Martin said.
Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive for the attack.
He said 23 of the dead were found dead in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.
Addressing the news conference, Gov. Greg Abbott called the attack the worst mass shooting in Texas history. "There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today," Abbott said. "Our hearts are heavy at the anguish in this small town, but in time of tragedy, we see the very best of Texas. May God comfort those who've lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities."
In Japan, President Donald Trump called the shooting "an act of evil," denounced the violence in "a place of sacred worship" and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief "Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong."
Trump ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff to honor those killed in the mass shooting at the Texas church.
Among those killed was the church pastor's 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town in two different states when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP.
"We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can."
Federal law enforcement swarmed the small rural community of a few hundred residents 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI's evidence collection team.
At least 16 wounded were taken to hospitals, hospital officials said, including eight taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center. Another eight victims were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center, located in Floresville about 10 miles from the church, including four who were later transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio for higher-level care, said spokeswoman Megan Posey.
Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone else in the sparsely populated county.
"This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town," Berlanga said. "Everybody's going to be affected and everybody knows someone who's affected."
Regina Rodriguez, who arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting, walked up to the police barricade and hugged a person she was with. She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn't been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.
Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, wasn't at Sunday's service, but he said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, was among the dead.
"We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday," he said, shaking his head. "This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men's Bible study, vacation Bible school. Somebody went in and started shooting."
"We're shocked. Shocked and dismayed," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs, a rural community known for its peanut festival, which was held last month. "It's especially shocking when it's such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving."
The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.
In a video of its Oct. 8 service, a congregant who spoke and read Scripture pointed to the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting a week earlier as evidence of the "wicked nature" of man. That shooting left 58 dead and more than 500 injured.
TWIN FALLS — Less than two months after a rodeo accident, Braxten Nielsen achieved his goal and walked out of the hospital.
The College of Southern Idaho rodeo athlete was released Oct. 18 from the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. With the help of a walker and a therapist holding onto his belt loop, Braxten took a series of steps as more than 20 people cheered him on.
“It was like a big celebration,” Braxten’s father, Rick Nielsen, said Thursday.
It’s a huge step after suffering a severe injury in late August.
On the first night of the Magic Valley Stampede PRCA Rodeo, Braxten was the first competitor in bareback riding. The horse reared up that Aug. 31 night and smashed him against the back of the chute.
The 24-year-old’s spinal cord was compressed and twisted, and he broke vertebrae in his back.
A Roosevelt, Utah, native and member of the CSI rodeo team , Braxten was airlifted to the University of Utah Hospital were he underwent a five-hour surgery to have rods inserted into his back. Doctors told him he was paralyzed from the waist down and it would be highly unlikely he’d ever walk again. But he’s already beating the odds.
“We honesty just feel truly blessed and honestly, miracles happen every day,” Rick said.
He said his son’s positive attitude — and that he hasn’t given up hope or faith — has made a big difference in his recovery.
Now, Braxten is undergoing physical therapy a few days a week at Neuroworx in Sandy, Utah.
“It seems like he’s getting a little more balance and control,” Rick said. Braxten can take a few steps on his own and can do a little more while using a walker to stabilize himself.
“He’s been doing awesome,” Rick said. “It’s totally amazing the progress that he makes each day.”
Rick said his son doesn’t have feeling in his legs and will likely have to depend on using a wheelchair for a while.
When it was time to leave the hospital in Salt Lake City, Braxten was released a couple of days early to make it home to Roosevelt for the high school football team’s playoff game. He talked with the team via FaceTime throughout the season and gave them a pregame motivational speech before the playoffs.
“He wanted to reach out to them and kind of motivate and help them,” Rick said, like the team helped him following the accident.
Rick said the family is blessed and grateful for the support they’ve received from across the country: from the rodeo community, their hometown, Idaho and those Braxten knows from his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Braxten has made a trip to Twin Falls to visit his rodeo team and community members, too.
He wants go back to CSI, but isn’t sure when — whether that will be spring semester or later, Rick said. “He wants to pick up where he left off with schooling.”
One step at a time.
TOKYO — President Donald Trump opened his second day in Japan today by pushing for stronger, more equitable economic ties between the allies, yet his message in Asia threatened to be overshadowed by a tragic shooting back home.
Trump today called the Texas church shooting that claimed at least 26 lives "an act of evil."
He then shifted to his message to a group of American and Japanese business leaders: the United States was open for business, but he wanted to reshape the nations' trade relationship.
"For the last many decades, Japan has been winning" the trade relationship, Trump said. "The U.S. has suffered massive trade deficits with Japan for many years."
He rebuked the current relationship, saying the trade deals were "not fair and not open." Trump downplayed the potentially contentious nature of the negotiations, though the Japanese government has not shown much appetite for striking a new bilateral trade agreement. Tokyo had pushed to preserve the Trans- Pacific Partnership, which Trump has abandoned.
"We will have more trade than anybody ever thought under TPP. That I can tell you," Trump said. He said the multinational agreement was not the right deal for the United States and that while "probably some of you in this room disagree ... ultimately I'll be proven to be right."
The president seemed at ease in front of his CEO peers, calling out some by name, teasing that the first lady had to sell her Boeing stock once he took office and calling for Japanese automakers to make more of their cars in America, though major companies like Toyota and Nissan already build many vehicles in the United States. He promised that profits would soon rise on both sides of the Pacific once new agreements were struck.
"We'll have to negotiate that out and it'll be a very friendly negotiation," Trump said, suggesting it would be done "quickly" and "easily."
Trump and his wife, Melania, then paid a formal state call on Japan's Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, at the Imperial Palace, which is set amid manicured pines and deciduous trees bursting with color in a park oasis at the heart of the bustling city.
The president nodded at the emperor and shook hands as he arrived. The Trumps were then ushered into a receiving room where they spoke to the imperial family with help from translators. Reporters were unable to hear the conversation.
Later today, Trump will highlight the specter of North Korea and try to put a human face on its menace, hearing from anguished families of Japanese citizens snatched by Pyongyang's agents. The White House hopes the meeting will elevate these heart-wrenching tales of loss to the international stage to help pressure North Korea to end its provocative behavior toward American allies in the region.
North Korea has acknowledged apprehending 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but claims they all died or have been released. But in Japan, where grieving relatives of the abducted have become a symbol of heartbreak on the scale of American POW families, the government insists nearly 50 people were taken — and believes some may be alive.
Trump has delivered harsh denunciations of the renegade North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, belittling him as "Little Rocket Man" and threatening to rain "fire and fury" on his country if the belligerence continues. But Trump also has begun highlighting the plight of ordinary North Koreans.
"I think they're great people. They're industrious. They're warm, much warmer than the world really knows or understands," Trump told reporters on Air Force One while flying to Japan on Sunday. "And I hope it all works out for everybody."
North Korea is the critical issue looming over Trump's 12-day, five-country trip that will include direct talks with Trump's Chinese and Russian counterparts.
In Washington, a new analysis emerged from the Pentagon saying that a ground invasion of North Korea is the only way to locate and destroy, with complete certainty, all components of Kim's nuclear weapons program.
"It is the most bleak assessment," said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Two members of the U.S. Congress had asked the Pentagon about casualty assessments in a possible conflict with North Korea. A rear admiral on the Joint Staff responded on behalf of the Defense Department, and said the amount of casualties would differ depending on the advance warning and the ability of U.S. and South Korea forces to counter North Korean attacks.
Abe welcomed Trump on Sunday with an effusive display of friendship that now gives way to high-stakes diplomacy. The leaders, who have struck up an unlikely but easy rapport, played nine holes at the Kasumigaseki Country Club and, giving Trump a taste of home, ate hamburgers made with American beef.
While there is worry in the region about Trump's unpredictable response to the threat posed by Kim, Trump made clear he did not intend to tone down his bellicose rhetoric even while in an Asian capital within reach of North Korea's missiles.
"There's been 25 years of total weakness, so we are taking a very much different approach," he said aboard Air Force One.
TWIN FALLS — The day Jody Jeske was told he had stage 4 cancer of the tongue, throat and lymph nodes, he told his partner Drago — a Belgian Malinois — to “find the cancer.”
The dog, trained to sniff out narcotics, put his nose on Jeske’s nostril, moved it down Jeske’s face to the left side of his neck and pushed against the lump.
The dog, bred in Germany for the sole purpose of finding bad guys, then became a vital part of Jeske’s treatment and recovery, staying with him in the spare bedroom when Jeske was unable to sleep, and giving him emotional support.
But Drago wasn’t the only source of support for the officer with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office. Jeske also received financial help from St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute Cancer Patient Emergency Fund, which helped pay for feeding through a tube in his stomach.
“That costs $400 a month and, when you’re not working, you wonder: How can I afford this? My insurance didn’t cover my nutrition,” Jeske said.
The Cancer Patient Emergency Fund receives part of its funding through a program called No Shave November. And a grateful Jeske, along with his fellow officers in the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Twin Falls, Buhl, Filer, Jerome and Kimberly, will be taking part in it as a show of support for Jeske and for others who need the help.
A unique way to grow cancer awareness, No Shave November is a national month-long campaign launched by a web-based, nonprofit organization. It revolves around a month-long journey during which participants forgo shaving and grooming to evoke conversations about cancer and raise funds for cancer prevention, research and education.
They can grow a beard, cultivate a mustache or even let those legs go natural, all the time donating the money they would typically spend on haircuts and other grooming to an organization dealing with cancer.
The Jerome Police Department and Twin Falls Police Department are staging a friendly competition to see who can raise the most money for MSTI’s Cancer Patient Emergency Fund.
And between 50 and 60 of the 77 sworn officers with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office are expected to take part, said Detective J.R. Paredez, who is helping to organize the effort. Each will donate $30 to the local fund. Some officers who prefer to remain clean shaven have indicated they will make donations, as well.
“We’ll be doing it for both November and December,” he said. “Normally, we’re required to shave before every shift so this is a two months out of the year we don’t have to. I enjoy it because I don’t like having to shave every day. But, it’s also given me a better understanding of what the money goes to.”
Last year $14,000 was raised for the Cancer Patient Emergency Fund. The fund the money went to helped 180 patients with medications, lodging, utilities, medical devices, groceries and transportation costs, said Michelle Bartlome, spokeswoman at St. Luke’s Magic Valley.
“We want not only to raise funds for people fighting cancer but also awareness,” police officer JP O’Donnell said. “Participating in this is something we’re pretty proud of.”
In addition to collecting donations from not shaving, MSTI is selling raffle tickets from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 in the hospital cafeteria of st. Luke’s Magic Valley. The hospital will hold a beard contest at 1:30 on Dec. 1 in the lobby of St. Luke’s MSTI and will draw the raffle winners at that time.
Raffle prizes include a jersey worn in a Boise State football game and a helmet signed by coach Brian Harsin, a golf package for the Jerome golf Course, a Sun Valley getaway that includes a round of golf for two, summer ice show tickets and ski passes, and a Washington Pawn Ruger Single Six revolver.
Tickets for the gun raffle are $10 each and tickets for the Sun Valley package are $20 each. Tickets for other items are one for $5 or five for $20.
Already, Brandi Keene of Brandi’s Barber Shop in downtown Twin Falls has helped out by giving No Shave November participants a clean shave, complete with hot towels, hot lather and even a facial massage, in the two days leading up to November. Those who took advantage donated the money they would have paid for the shave to the Cancer Patient Emergency Fund.
Jeske, a canine handler for the sheriff’s office, experienced painful earaches in his left ear for a year but doctors thought it was TMJ, a disorder that can cause pain in the jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.
When he told his dentist that it had moved to his right ear, and that his tongue was feeling weird, his dentist began probing around his mouth underneath his tongue.
“I felt him going back and forth over one spot and thought, ‘Oh, oh, he’s found something,’ ” he recalled.
One biopsy and PET scan later, Jeske found himself embarking on three rounds of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments, as removing the cancerous lump surgically would have meant losing his tongue.
A year later, his scans show no evidence of cancer. But he is dealing with some side effects from his treatment. He has “horrible dry mouth” from radiation, which he says he may never get rid of. His speech has been affected because the left side of his tongue is paralyzed. And, while he is no longer using a food tube, eating is difficult because some of his teeth had to be extracted.
He is too weak to return to the regimen required of a police officer. And, he cannot get the hydration or the nutrition that would be necessary to work with a dog in the field.
But, while he can’t grow a full-on beard because of his treatment, he is nurturing a goatee so he can join others in No Shave November.
“I can’t believe the amount of support I received from the emergency fund and from my fellow police officers during my treatment,” he said. “And there are a lot of people who are going to MSTI in Twin Falls who are traveling from places like Hailey, Sun Valley and Burley, so the emergency fund is able to provide funds to help them with gas and hotel expenses.”