20 killed as gunman sprays bullets in Church

Scene of the shooting where church members were killed in Sutherland Springs

More than 20 people have been killed after a gunman opened fire at a church during Sunday services, police say.

The attack happened at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a small town in Wilson County, Texas.

The gunman, who is reported to have been killed in the aftermath, entered the church and opened fire at around 11:30 local time (17:30 GMT).

Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr the gunman fled the scene in a vehicle before being killed.

“You never expect something like this. My heart is broken,” Mr Gamez Jr said.

Earlier estimates put the death toll as high as 27. Mr Gamez Jr told CNN he was told by an emergency medical technician at least 27 died and 24 others were wounded.

About 50 people usually attend the service, locals said. The BBC’s James Cook reported that children were among those killed.

The gunman died after a brief car chase into nearby Guadalupe County slightly to the north, a Sherriff’s Office deputy from that county told CNN.

But it is not clear if he was killed by police or killed himself, the spokesman said.

One witness, Carrie Matula, told NBC News: “We heard semi-automatic gunfire… we’re only about 50 yards away from this church.”

“This is a very small community, so everyone was very curious as to what was going on.”

The pastor and his wife were out of town at the time, the pastor of neighbouring River Oak Church told KSAT 12.

“We were in the middle of our church service down the road when we got phone calls from friends about this – and they said there was an active shooter at First Baptist Church,” he said.

“We had some first responders in our church, who immediately left and went down there. And then my church went to do what we do – we started praying… we knew the best thing we could do was stay out of the way”.

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He said people had been told some news which was “private and personal for the families that are here… we cannot release any of that”.

Sutherland Springs is a small rural community with just a few hundred residents, which lies about 30 miles (50km) southeast of the Texas city of San Antonio.

The San Antonio FBI branch said its agents had been deployed, and there was no indication of the gunman’s motive.

The FBI also said that while only one shooter was reported, it was looking into other possibilities.

Photos and video from the scene showed the area taped off by local law enforcement.

A number of helicopters have arrived to transport the wounded, KSAT 12 reporter Max Massey said.

Texas governor Greg Abbott said: “Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act. Our thanks to law enforcement for their response.”

He said more details would be released by the Texas Department of Public Safety shortly.

President Donald Trump, on a tour of Asia, tweeted he was “monitoring the situation from Japan”.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement: “The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Sutherland Springs as tragic reports come out of First Baptist Church. My office stand ready to assist local law enforcement as need”.

The shooting comes just a month after a gunman in Las Vegas opened fire on an outdoor music festival, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds.

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