WASHINGTON, Nov 06 (IANS): A lone gunman carrying a military-style rifle opened fire on worshippers at a Baptist church in Texas killing 26 people in one of the deadliest mass shooting in the US state’s history.
The attack took place on Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, a small town some 45 km southeast of San Antonio city.
Law enforcement officials said that the gunman was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, who died shortly after the attack.
The cause of his death was being investigated.
Kelley started firing at the First Baptist Church shortly after the morning service began at 11 a.m., the police said.
He was armed with a Ruger AR-556 rifle, and within minutes, many of those inside the small church were dead and injured.
After the carnage, a local resident engaged Kelley in a gun battle as he exited the church.
Kelley fled at high speed with the civilian in pursuit before running off the roadway, where he was later found dead.
“The local citizen pursued him,” Freeman Martin, a senior official for the Texas Department of Public Safety said.
“We don’t know if it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by our local resident who engaged him in a gunfight,” he added.
The motive for the attack remains unknown.
The victims ranged between the ages of five to 72 years old and included at least eight members of a family, a pregnant woman and three of her children along with the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor, Martin added.
Kelley was a member of the US Air Force and served at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
Kelley was court-martialled in 2012 for assaulting his spouse and child. He served a year in confinement and received a bad conduct discharge. His rank was also reduced, she added.
On Sunday night, Sutherland Springs residents took part in a candlelight vigil.
Governor Greg Abbott also attended the event. He said that he and other Texans were asking “for God’s comfort, for God’s guidance and for God’s healing for all those who are suffering”.
President Donald Trump, at a news conference on Monday in Tokyo, said that he thought “mental health” was the problem.
“Based on preliminary reports,” he said, the shooter was “a very deranged individual, a lot of problems for a long period of time”.
Trump did not provide the basis for his statement, saying “it’s a little bit soon to go into it”.
“This isn’t a guns situation... Fortunately someone else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction” or it “would have been much worse”.
Sunday’s massacre unfolded on the eighth anniversary of the attack in 2009 on Fort Hood in Texas, when an Army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, killed 13 people in one of the deadliest mass shootings at an American military base.