President Donald Trump called the mass shooting at a Texas church on Sunday a “mental health problem at the highest level,” and said the gunman was a “deranged” individual.
Officials have said 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire inside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others. Kelley was found dead inside his vehicle after being pursued by local residents.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the attack the deadliest mass shooting in his state’s history. Officials said 23 people were found dead inside the church, two outside, and one died after being taken to a hospital.
Texas Rangers are leading the investigation, with significant support from the FBI. Law enforcement officials have yet to speculate on the motive in the attack.
Speaking in Japan early Monday morning, however, Mr. Trump said: “I think that mental health is the problem here. This was a very, based on preliminary reports, very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country — as do other countries.”
“But, this isn’t a guns situation, we could go into it, but it’s a little soon to go into it,” said Mr. Trump.
The president, speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the first stop of an extended Asia trip, said, “fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it would’ve been — as bad as it was — it would’ve been much worse. But, this is a mental health problem at the highest level.”
It was not immediately clear what information Mr. Trump had about the shooting suspect from his private briefings that lead him to draw his conclusions.
On Sunday night, authorities only identified the suspect as a young white male. They said he was seen dressed in all black with tactical gear — including a “ballistic vest” — at a local gas station at 11:20 a.m. He then exited his vehicle, crossed the street and began firing an AR-15 style weapon at the church, officials said. The suspect entered the church and continued to fire.
“Victims and their families were in their sacred place of worship… we cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel,” Mr. Trump said. “In dark times such as these, Americans do we what do best and we pull together. We lock hands and we joins arms. Through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong.”
Mr. Trump pledged his full support to the state of Texas and the local communities affected by Sunday’s attack, and he ordered flags on U.S. government buildings to fly at half-staff out of respect for the victims of the shooting.
“We offer our thanks to the first responders, to the FBI, all of the many people involved. I will continue to follow the developments closely. All of America is praying to God,” Mr. Trump said.