Thursday, July 19, 2018
Nation & World

Texas shooting: Death sweeps across 3 generations of a single family gathered at church

Houses of worship are among the few places left where families regularly gather, sometimes extended and sometimes across many generations. The First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, is no different. And within those walls on Sunday morning, together as always, were three generations of the Holcombe family.

Bryan Holcombe was walking up to the pulpit, preparing to lead the congregation in worship, when a gunman identified by officials as Devin Kelley began to spray bullets at the worshipers.

Holcombe, an associate pastor for the church, was killed in the gunfire, his parents, Joe and Claryce Holcombe, said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Karla Holcombe, Bryan Holcombe’s wife of about four decades, was killed, too, Joe Holcombe said.

Bryan and Karla Holcombe’s son Marc Daniel Holcombe, 36, also was killed, Joe Holcombe said.

Marc Daniel had an infant daughter, Noah Holcombe, who, was a year old, Joe Holcombe said. She is dead, too.

Another son of Bryan and Karla, John Holcombe, survived, but his wife, Crystal Holcombe, who was pregnant, did not.

Crystal had five children. Three of them, Emily, Megan and Greg, died. The two others survived.

That’s eight members of the extended Holcombe family dead, in addition to the unborn baby.

RELATED COVERAGE: Texas massacre followed domestic situation involving gunman’s family

All at once, Joe and Claryce Holcombe lost children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and a future great-grandchild.

The act of violence that claimed lives from generations of their loved ones took place in the space that mattered to them most: their church.

The Holcombes were among the 26 people authorities say were killed in Sunday’s mass shooting, described by Gov. Greg Abbott as the worst in Texas history.

As the morning stretched to afternoon and evening, friends and family members in South Texas posted on Facebook, asking whether anyone had heard from their loved ones.

Joe and Claryce Holcombe first heard about the shooting an hour after it happened, from a phone call from a member of the church they attend, a different Baptist church in nearby Floresville, Texas.

"He said there was a big shooting and he didn’t say much more than that," said Joe Holcombe, 86.

Then, in a conversation with the church’s head pastor, they started to hear the wrenching news.

"Bryan and Karla?" Joe Holcombe asked.

"They’re both in heaven," the pastor responded. As the day went on, they would learn of the others.

RELATED COVERAGE: Texas gunman had assaulted wife and stepson before church shooting

John Holcombe, who teaches Sunday school and runs the audio for Sunday services at First Baptist Church, was struck with shrapnel in his leg, he told his parents by phone later that day. His daughter remained hospitalized Sunday night, mostly for observation, Joe Holcombe said. She was injured when someone fell on her, Claryce Holcombe said.

Their grandparents described the couple as "fantastic" parents, and a "happy family."

Crystal Holcombe home-schooled her five children and was heavily involved in the church, like the rest of the family. On Facebook, she reported proudly of the children’s successes in competitions for their local 4-H club, and wrote about a recent bake sale in which the girls participated, benefiting families affected by Hurricane Harvey.

John Holcombe posts frequently about his lesson plans for Sunday school. For this week, he planned to focus on Exodus 16, he wrote in a Facebook post. It describes how God provided the Israelites with food as they traveled for 40 years in the desert, "Manna from Heaven."

Bryan Holcombe was filling in Sunday for the church’s lead pastor, who was out of town.

And according to his parents, the associate pastor has been involved in church work since he was young.

"We knew when he was born, that he was going to be a preacher," Joe Holcombe told the Post. "His first word was ‘God.’"

His first sentence? "See the light."

On his Facebook page, Bryan Holcombe is shown hoisting his grandchildren on his shoulders, dressing up in costumes for church events and playing his ukulele. He would often play the instrument and sing for prison inmates, a relative told the Associated Press.

"Grandkids, it doesn’t get any better!" Bryan Holcombe wrote on Facebook on one photo of his many grandchildren. "I’ll wake up at night and, in prayer, thank God for each of them . . . it takes a while:-)"

He and Karla lived near his parents, between Floresville and Sutherland Springs. He ran a business on his parents’ farm, making tarps for cattle trailers, Joe Holcombe said.

Bryan and Karla Holcombe were high school sweethearts. One day, their high school was selling roses, offering to deliver them to the classrooms. So Bryan Holcombe delivered a rose to each of Karla’s classes that day.

"He thought she was cute, and she was," Joe Holcombe said.

Karla Holcombe had the "gift of hospitality," her mother-in-law said. She had planned to host the family’s Thanksgiving gathering.

Joe and Claryce Holcombe, who are retired teachers, hosted a group of nearby pastors and churchgoers at their home on Sunday as they waited for details about the deceased. They prayed together.

"It’s of course going to be difficult," Joe Holcombe said.

But, he said, "we are Christians, we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good."

"They’re in heaven," he added. "And they’re a lot better off than we are."

The shooting at First Baptist Church shattered scores of other families in this rural, tight-knit community.

Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of First Baptist Church, told ABC News that he did not attend the church service but that his teenage daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy, 14, was killed.

"She was very quiet, shy, always smiling, and helpful to all," Cynthia Rangel, 50, a resident of Stockdale, said of Annabelle Pomeroy. Rangel, a local emergency medical technician, said she knew three people who were hospitalized after the shooting and were undergoing surgery. "This just all seems like it’s not real."

As Michael Ward pulled wounded congregants out of the church, he searched for his nephew, three nieces and his sister-in-law, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

"My nephew was outside with four bullets in him," he said of Rylind Ward, 5.

"And Rhianna, the bullet broke her glasses, and broke ’em off, and she said she hid underneath the pew and didn’t get hit," he said of his 9-year-old niece.

Sandy Ward told MSNBC that her 5-year-old grandson was in surgery, and her 7-year-old granddaughter was killed.

She waited at the hospital Sunday with her son.

"He’s a wreck, of course, as you can imagine," Ward told MSNBC. "I’m just in shock."

"I’m numb," she added. "My whole body’s just numb."

Joe and Claryce Holcombe said they’re still coming to terms with what happened. The shooter, Joe Holcombe said, is "being rewarded right now for what he did, and for all of eternity."

But, Claryce added, "we need to pray for his family, because they’re going through a terrible time, too."

"God will see us through," Joe Holcombe said. "We’ll all be together soon."

Comments
Musk apologizes for ‘pedo guy’ comment: ‘The fault is mine and mine alone’

Musk apologizes for ‘pedo guy’ comment: ‘The fault is mine and mine alone’

The latest development in the heated feud between Elon Musk and British diver Vernon Unsworth may be surprising to many: It was an apology from Musk.Late Tuesday night, the Silicon Valley billionaire took to Twitter, writing the apology many have dem...
Published: 07/18/18
Out of hospital, Thai boys recount moment they were found

Out of hospital, Thai boys recount moment they were found

CHIANG RAI, Thailand — The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a cave in northern Thailand described the moment they realized they finally had been found, as they appeared at a news conference Wednesday after leaving the hospital where they h...
Published: 07/18/18
Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says

Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says

When their marriage fell apart, the most contentious issue between Ruby Torres and John Joseph Terrell was the fate of their frozen embryos. There were seven in storage, created with her eggs and his sperm before Torres underwent chemotherapy and rad...
Published: 07/18/18
Bodies of 95 black forced-labor prisoners from Jim Crow era unearthed in Sugar Land after one man’s quest

Bodies of 95 black forced-labor prisoners from Jim Crow era unearthed in Sugar Land after one man’s quest

Today the city of Sugar Land is a sprawling suburb southwest of Houston, home to Imperial Sugar Co., shopping malls and endless cul-de-sacs. But, more than a century ago, it was a sprawling network of sugar cane plantations and prison camps. Sugar La...
Published: 07/18/18
Trump says he misspoke on Russia meddling

Trump says he misspoke on Russia meddling

WASHINGTON — Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump sought Tuesday to "clarify" his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he had misspoken when he said he saw no rea...
Published: 07/17/18
Trump returns from summit with Putin to forceful criticism

Trump returns from summit with Putin to forceful criticism

HELSINKI — In an extraordinary embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ firm finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, seeming to accept Russian President Vl...
Published: 07/17/18
Summit snippets

Summit snippets

No dirt on TrumpRussian President Vladimir Putin rejected allegations that Moscow collected compromising materials on President Donald Trump or his family. Putin, a former KGB agent, scoffed at the notion that the Russian security services try to gat...
Published: 07/16/18
Trump questions U.S. on 2016 intel

Trump questions U.S. on 2016 intel

HELSINKI — President Donald Trump stood next to President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Monday and publicly challenged the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election, wrapping up what he called ...
Published: 07/16/18

Reactions to Trump statements in Helsinki

What they’re saying"The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake."Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. Mc...
Published: 07/16/18
Trump offers little pushback to Putin’s denial of interference

Trump offers little pushback to Putin’s denial of interference

HELSINKI - President Donald Trump cast doubt on the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying after his summit here Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the autocrat gave hi...
Published: 07/16/18