SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — The Texas church where more than two dozen people were killed by a gunman during Sunday services will be demolished, the pastor said.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy told leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this week that it would be too painful to continue using First Baptist Church as a place of worship.
Pomeroy discussed the plan with the denomination’s top executives, who traveled to the rural community in a show of support, a national Southern Baptist spokesman said.
The pastor described the building as “too stark of a reminder” of the massacre, spokesman Sing Oldham said.
Pomeroy expressed hope he could turn the site into a memorial for the dead and put up a new building on property the church owns, Oldham said.
Charlene Uhl, mother of 16-year-old Haley Krueger, who died in the attack, agreed that the church should come down.
“There should still be church but not here,” she said Thursday as she visited a row of white crosses commemorating the victims in front of the church. She said her daughter attended worship services and a weekly Thursday night youth group meeting held by another victim, Karla Holcombe.
Jeannie Brown, visiting from Indiana, stopped at the site with her daughter, who used to live in Sutherland Springs but left decades ago for San Antonio.
Asked whether the church should be destroyed, Brown said: “Yes. Who would want to go back in there? But then if it is destroyed, does that mean he (the gunman) won?”
Other sites of mass shootings have been torn down, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. A new school was built elsewhere.
A one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was torn down in 2006, 10 days after an assailant took children hostage and shot and killed five girls ages 6 to 13.
The previous site of the school is now a pasture. A nearly identical schoolhouse with a security fence was erected nearby and named New Hope School.
The father of the gunman broke the family’s silence and said his relatives are grieving.
Michael Kelley spoke to ABC News on Wednesday from his home in New Braunfels, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of Sutherland Springs.
He said he does not doesn’t want the “media circus” surrounding the attack by Devin Patrick Kelley to destroy “our lives, our grandchildren’s lives.”
A motive remains unclear, but the younger Kelley appears to have targeted the church because it was attended by his wife’s family. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after being shot and chased by two residents when he was leaving the church, authorities said.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at a memorial service for the victims of the gunman.
Pence told the crowd that the attack was the worst mass shooting at a church in American history and called the gunman “deranged.”
“Whatever animated the evil that descended on that small church, if the attacker’s desire was to silence their testimony of faith, they failed,” the vice president added.
Pence also visited with wounded congregants at a San Antonio hospital and met with families of the dead in Floresville, not far from Sutherland Springs. He went from table to table at a high school library, attempting to console devastated family members.
“The whole country is praying over you,” he told one man who lost his sister-in-law.
Earlier Wednesday, Pence said President Donald Trump had ordered federal agencies to provide extensive help to the investigation, including 100 on-site FBI agents.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has released an official list of those killed in the rampage. The eight male victims and 17 female victims ranged in age from 1 to 77.
Authorities said the 26 dead also included the unborn baby of a woman who was killed. All the victims died at the scene, except for one child who died at a hospital.
Eleven people remained hospitalized Thursday with wounds they suffered in the attack.
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