Texas church where 26 were killed in mass shooting to be permanently closed, says pastor

'There’s too many that do not want to go back in there,' says Pastor Frank Pomeroy

Emily Shugerman
New York
Thursday 09 November 2017 19:36 GMT
Crime scene tape remains stretched along a road near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs
Crime scene tape remains stretched along a road near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Texas church where 26 people were killed in a mass shooting will not reopen its doors, its pastor has said.

Pastor Frank Pomeroy of the First Baptist of Sutherland Springs told the Wall Street Journal that services would continue as usual in a community centre down the road.

“There’s too many [people] that do not want to go back in there,” he said of the church building, where a lone gunman opened fire on Sunday. Mr Pomeroy’s daughter was killed in the shooting.

The pastor added that the church may be turned into a memorial, but “we’re playing it day by day right now”.

Temporary memorials have already sprung up around the church. Dozens of stuffed animals, flowers, and candles lay under the police tape that currently cordons off the building. Twenty-six white crosses were arranged in a field nearby, representing the 26 dead.

Outside a gas station next door, someone placed a candle, a flower, and a teddy bear on the ground in an impromptu tribute to the victims.

An impromptu memorial has popped up outside a gas station in Sutherland Springs (Emily Shugerman/The Independent)

Some outlets have reported that the church building will be torn down, but a spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) told The Independent this had yet to be confirmed.

Frank Page, president of the SBC’s executive committee, and Steve Gaines, SBC's president, visited Mr Pomeroy recently to discuss the shooting. During the conversation, Mr Pomeroy “expressed his personal desire that perhaps the church would be raised,” said Roger Oldham, SBC’s Vice President of Communications.

Mr Oldham emphasised that the church itself would continue operations – no matter what happened to the building.

“The church didn't close,’ he said. “The church is the people.”

Americans rally around Sutherland Springs residents as they attempt to piece their lives back together

An anonymous donor has already agreed to fund the construction of a new building, Mr Page told the National Catholic Reporter. But Mr Pomeroy has said it is “too soon right now to tell” whether the building will be rebuilt.

“I want to get through all the funerals before I do anything,” he told the Journal.

Several organisations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, have offered to pay for the funeral services. One funeral home in San Antonio has already offered free caskets. Several GoFundMe pages have also been started to help survivors pay for the funerals of their family members and friends. One such fundraiser has already raised nearly $237,000.

It is unclear how much it would cost to rebuild the church, or turn it into a memorial. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where nine people were killed in a church shooting in 2015, raised almost $42,000 for the construction of a memorial this year. Architect Michael Arad, known for creating the World Trade Centre Memorial in New York, has agreed to design it.

But other memorials to mass shootings have proved controversial. Adam Lankford, a professor of criminology at the University of Alabama, said memorials can sometimes become a pilgrimage site for other potential mass shooters.

“If you have something that specifically marks the site, that could be something that these copycats and at-risk individuals want to visit,” Mr Lankford previously told The Independent. “It creates a landmark.”

The best option, Mr Lankford said, is to let the locations “fade into history, in the same way we hope the memory of these offenders do.”

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