Sutherland Springs residents and family members gathered in a football stadium Wednesday night to hear words of support from Vice President Mike Pence and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“Even though anguish and sorrow hang over the community,” Abbott said, “we will not be overcome by evil. Together we will overcome evil with good.”
Pence recounted the lives of those killed Sunday at First Baptist Church.
“Among them Haley Krueger, who even though just 16 years of age, already knew she wanted to be a neonatal nurse and care for the most vulnerable in society,” he said. “Shani and Robert Corrigan – a 30-year veteran of the United States Air Force – two high school sweethearts whose son had just passed away a year ago.”
The stands were full; at least 2,000 people came to pay their respects. Many came from Wilson County, others from San Antonio. Some lifted their hands in prayer and hugged one another.
“We’re a small community first, but the most important thing is we’re family,” said Karla Sikkema’s from Floresville, whose son died a year ago. “You can’t even go to our local grocery store right now because an employee there is no longer. … So it’s affected our community throughout.”
Sikkema is a trauma nurse in the intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. She has taken care of eight of those injured in Sutherland Springs.
“They’re strong; they’re survivors; they’re prayerful,” she said. “It’s incredible, but at the same time, to see the victims still feeling like they’re right there and that it’s happening all over again – it’s scary.”
She said her two 7-year-old daughters lost a friend from their second-grade class. It’s a difficult conversation she never thought she’d have, but she tells her girls their friend is with God.
“Because we’re Christians, we know that there’s a heaven," she said, "and we know that at some point in time we’re all going to go to see Jesus."
There’s been a prayer vigil every night since Sunday, when more than 10 percent of tiny Sutherland Springs’s population was either killed or injured. Shirley Filoteo, one of the roughly 400 residents, said she’s been to three vigils so far.
“Our community still needs to be healed,” she said.
Filoteo lives a half mile from the church and says the shooting has left a massive hole in the town’s heart.
“Something like that – so evil – happened to so many good people that were worshiping God," she said. "You can’t get more evil than that."
Family members of the victims didn’t speak at the vigil, though about two dozen congregated at one end of the football field while the vice president spoke.
The pastor of First Baptist, Frank Pomeroy, wasn’t at the church Sunday, but his 14-year-old daughter, Anabelle, was and died in the shooting. He says Wednesday’s vigil was proof that, despite the immeasurable loss they’ve all suffered, the community’s faith is strong.
“It showed the fact that we live in a country that, though there are many who try to say that we're secular, we live in a country that still comes together and prays to an almighty God,” he said.
While they mourn, First Baptist church members are wonder what will happen to their church.
“We’re playing it day by day right now,” Pomeroy said. “There’s too many that do not want to go back into there,” he said. “I think we’ll probably turn it into a memorial for a while.”
On Thursday, The Associated Press reported that he planned to demolish the building.
Pomeroy said he still plans to hold services Sunday to help Sutherland Springs residents draw strength from one another and God. But, for now at least, it will take place at the community center.