Residents of Sutherland Springs, which is about 40 miles east of San Antonio, gathered for a prayer vigil Sunday night.
Hours after the prayers of the First Baptist Church were cut off by gunfire, members of the community gathered by candlelight. They wanted to complete those interrupted prayers and find strength and answers in their faith.
The vigil was held across two-lane Highway 87 from the church that is now an active crime scene. Sutherland Springs is an unincorporated town of 643 people It’s a place where everyone knows one another.
Alda Dalton lives down the street from the church. It was the arrival of helicopter ambulances that alerted her that something terrible had happened. She soon found out that one of her good friends was killed.
“Unfortunately, she had two young children and now they don’t have a mom,” Dalton says.
She came to the vigil to offer her prayers “...to celebrate the lives of the ones who went home today and to hope and pray for those who are in surgery. I still have loved ones who are in surgery.”
Like many attending the vigil, Joyce Emily stood holding a candle, with tears streaming down her cheeks. She said she was familiar with the church and its members.
“We actually used to go to this church until God led us in a different direction – what was it like? When you walked in you knew you were loved,” Emily says. "It was very family-oriented. And when you walked in, you knew you were loved."
Pastor Stephen Curry of the nearby La Vernia United Methodist Church told the crowd not to let the actions of the one man with a gun change who they are.
"Who are we going to be tomorrow? We are going to be the people of Texas, the people of Sutherland Springs, the people of First Baptist Church," he told the gathering.
Asked if he’s going to be making any changes to security at his church, Curry said no.
"We can’t make our churches fortresses," Curry says. "They are supposed to be open for people to come in and worship. We have people in our church in our congregation, we do have officers who worship in our congregation and we will listen to their advice and their instruction as to how they feel we can best deal with this as far as safety but the doors of the church are to be open as a place of worship for all people.”
Despite pleas to the community not to be darkened by the action of this killer, it’s hard to imagine that is possible. One resident said their town's remote, rural location had helped residents feel safe from this national plague of senseless violence. But now they understand that in today’s America, these tragic mass shooting can happen anywhere.