How does a God-fearing, gun-friendly church recover from a horrific mass shooting? Long after the camera crews departed, a Texas journalist stuck around to find out.
Frank Pomeroy, pastor at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, was away for the weekend when he received a text message alerting him that a gunman had just attacked the church during Sunday worship. Among the dead was his own daughter, Annabelle.
“By noon,” as Texas journalist Joe Holley writes in his new book recounting the massacre and its aftermath, “Frank was in his truck barreling down I-35, every mile a rolling kaleidoscope of memories … [He] began to separate out the feelings of pain and desperation that threatened him from the practical steps he knew he had to take in the next few hours, the next several days.”
Holley, columnist for the Houston Chronicle and a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his columns on Texas gun culture, was at a book signing when he learned about the shooting. Driving home afterwards, he heard all the terrible details on the radio: “A Baptist church. Multiple deaths. Sutherland Springs.”
Soon enough, a clearer picture of the carnage—and an outline of the trials to come—was emerging: “Twenty-five friends and loved ones had lost their lives … A pastor who knew and cared about those broken people needed to preach their funerals. Twenty of their friends and loved ones were in area hospitals, some still fighting for their lives; they needed visiting and their families needed consoling.”
When Holley saw the exit for I-35 he began driving toward the small town. He would spend the next year of his life there, remaining long after most reporters had left. The resulting book, Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town, paints a picture of tragedy, despair, faith, and resilience. But Holley also shows the systemic …