Many reported dead after gunman opens fire at Texas church

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – A gunman entered a church in a small town in southeast Texas on Sunday and began firing, resulting in many fatalities and injuries, a county commissioner told Reuters.

The gunman was killed several miles from the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, about 40 miles (65 km) east of San Antonio, said Guadalupe County Sheriff’s Sergeant Robert Murphy.

Neither the suspect’s identity nor any possible motive were disclosed by authorities. The exact number of deaths and injuries was not disclosed.

“There are a number of fatalities,” said Wilson County Commissioner Larry Wiley in a phone interview with Reuters.

The massacre is the latest in a rash of mass shootings that have plagued the United States in recent years, stirring a national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to the trend.

It comes just weeks after a sniper killed 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

President Donald Trump said he was monitoring the situation while in Japan on a 12-day Asian trip.

“May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene,” he said on Twitter.

According the witnesses, about 20 shots rang out about 11:30 a.m. (1730 GMT) during the church services, according to media reports. It was unclear how many worshippers were inside at the time.

After the shooting, the suspect sped away in a car and was soon cornered by sheriff’s deputies just outside of Wilson County in Guadalupe County, Wiley told Reuters. He did not know if the shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot or was killed by deputies.

The First Baptist Church is a fixture in Sutherland Springs, an area home to fewer than 900 residents, according the 2010 Census.

The white-painted, one-story structure features a small steeple and a single front door. On Sunday, the Lone Star flag of Texas was flying alongside the U.S. flag and a third, unidentified banner.

Inside there is a small raised platform on which members sang worship songs to guitar music and the pastor delivered a weekly sermon, according to videos posted on YouTube. In one of the clips, a few dozen people, including young children, can be seen sitting in the wooden pews.

The shooting occurred on the eighth anniversary of the Nov. 5, 2009 massacre of 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in central Texas. A U.S. Army Medical Corps psychiatrist convicted of the killings is now awaiting execution.

In 2015, a white gunman killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman was sentenced to death for the racially motivated attack.

Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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