By: Dana Branham, Nataly Keomoungkhoun, Tom Steele & LaVendrick Smith – dallasnews.com – December 29, 2019
A gunman killed two people during a Sunday morning service at a church in White Settlement before members of the congregation fatally shot him, authorities say.
Police in White Settlement, about eight miles west of Fort Worth, were called before 11 a.m. to the West Freeway Church of Christ at 1900 South Las Vegas Trail after two members who are part of the church’s security team opened fire on the gunman.
MedStar spokeswoman Macara Trusty soon reported that the gunman and one of his victims had died at a hospital. The second victim was resuscitated after going into cardiac arrest on the way to a hospital, but authorities announced at an evening news conference that the person died later.
The names of the gunman and the people he killed have not been released.
Two other people were treated at the scene for minor injuries they suffered when they hit their heads while they were ducking for cover, Trusty said.
“We lost two great men today, but it could have been a lot worse, and I am thankful our government has allowed us the opportunity to protect ourselves,” said Britt Farmer, the church’s senior minister.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, speaking at the evening news conference, highlighted changes in state law that ensured the right to carry concealed weapons in churches.
He credited the church’s volunteer security team for protecting their fellow members.
“The heroism today is unparalleled,” Patrick said. “This team responded quickly, and within six seconds the shooting was over.”
The FBI said Sunday evening that the gunman had been arrested in different jurisdictions but declined to go into detail about any charges he’d faced. Although the man had roots in the area, it appears he may have been transient.
‘Today evil walked boldly among us’
White Settlement police Chief J.P. Bevering said the Texas Department of Public Safety will lead the investigation into the shooting.
Authorities did not release any information about a possible motive. Law enforcement officials said there was no ongoing threat to the public, and they praised the members of the church’s security team for ending the attack within seconds.
Jeoff Williams, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said there was an enormous police response Sunday morning to learn more about what led to the shooting.
He said the nation has seen so many shootings “that we’ve actually gotten used to it.”
“I would like to point out that we have a couple of heroic parishioners,” Williams said. “Our hearts are going out to them and their families as well.”
He said their quick actions had saved the lives of many other churchgoers.
“The citizens in this community have a lot to be proud of,” Williams said.
Matthew DeSarno, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office, said the agency was offering its resources to help with the investigation.
“We are working very hard to find motive to get to the bottom of what happened,” DeSarno said. “As you see from the group assembled behind me, an incident like this does not get solved and we don’t get to the bottom of it without significant partnership.”
Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said Sunday was “a horrific day in Tarrant County.”
“Today evil walked boldly among us,” he said. “But let me remind you, good people raised up and stopped it before it got worse.”
Bevering, the police chief, offered his condolences to the victims as well as the churchgoers who survived the shooting.
“We’re all hurting right now, and I just want your prayers for everybody at this time,” he said.
Hours after the shooting, as churchgoers left the scene, John Richardson stood next to his wife, Diana, outside a Waffle House near the church.
The couple have been married 47 years and have attended West Freeway Church of Christ for more than half of that time, he said.
Richardson said that in the years since his wife suffered a brain injury in a car crash, he has learned to keep such tragedies in perspective.
“Once you’ve been through something traumatic like that, you already appreciate life that much more,” he said.
He said he had no hate for the gunman, whom he called one of God’s creations.
“You can’t have hate for these people,” Richardson said. “You can’t have hate for anybody.”
Livestream captures shooting
A livestream video that captured the shooting appeared to have been removed from the church’s YouTube page shortly after the attack, but copies are circulating on social media.
In the video, the gunman, who is wearing what seems to be a dark-colored hood, gets up from a pew in the back of the room and walks up to a man in a suit who is standing in the corner.
As the two speak and the man points to his right, the gunman reaches into his jacket and pulls out a shotgun.
A man sitting nearby stands up and reaches toward the back of his waistband as several others start to take cover, but most people in the sanctuary appear to be unaware of what is happening.
The gunman fires twice while stepping backward down the aisle, striking the man who stood up and then the man he first approached.
Another man then pulls out a handgun and fires once, striking the gunman just as he turns toward the front of the room. Six seconds have elapsed since the gunman pulled out his gun.
After the gunman’s first shot, nearly everyone in the room startles, trying to find the source of the noise. As the gunman fires again, most of the worshippers begin ducking behind the pews, and a church leader standing on stage dives onto the floor.
Several people in the opposite corner run up the aisle toward an exit, leaving papers and a book scattered in their wake. One woman crawls. An older man, who has turned to watch what’s happening, hardly moves.
Screams fill the air as the gunman is shot and falls to the ground.
A woman runs shrieking toward the victims as someone tries to help the first man who was shot, who is out of view. The second victim, who tumbled onto what appears to be a bench after he was shot, sits up.
Meanwhile, at least five other worshippers pull out handguns and slowly approach the gunman. The man who shot the gunman kicks away the gunman’s firearm and picks it up.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that church elder Mike Tinius said the gunman had drawn the suspicion of church security shortly before the shooting. He said he’d never seen the man and had no idea what his motive for the attack might have been.
“By the sequence of events, it should be assumed that he came in with an idea,” he said.
State officials react
Gov. Greg Abbott called the shooting an “evil act of violence” in a statement Sunday afternoon.
“Places of worship are meant to be sacred, and I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life,” Abbott said. “Cecilia and I ask all Texans to join us in praying for the White Settlement community and for all those affected by this horrible tragedy.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office asked for prayers for the victims and their families and said the office will assist in any way needed.
Erin Nealy Cox, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said details about the shooter are under investigation.
“No one should be subjected to gunfire in a house of worship,” Nealy Cox said in a tweeted statement.
Sunday’s attack came just over 20 years after a gunman walked into a Wednesday evening prayer service at Fort Worth’s Wedgwood Baptist Church and killed four teenagers and three adults before fatally shooting himself. Seven more people were injured in the September 1999 attack.
A state law went into effect in September 2017 that allows churches to have armed volunteer security. Licensed handgun owners may legally bring firearms into a place of worship as long as the church allows it, and a law passed earlier this year requires churches to give notice to their congregations if they want to ban guns.
Churches, synagogues and mosques previously had been off-limits to gun owners, but lawmakers decided to lift the restriction as a response to the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting in which 26 victims were fatally shot and 20 more were wounded. The gunman in that attack killed himself after being shot by two men who chased him until he crashed his vehicle.
Correction. 9:55 p.m. A previous version of this story said that a 2017 Texas law allowed churches to have armed security. The law allowed armed volunteer security.
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