'We were not put on this earth to bury children': Texans donate free caskets, teddy bears and cash to shooting victims

‘There are a lot of people who feel helpless, and yet they want to be part of the solution’

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

In tiny Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a shooter gunned down 26 people at a local church on Sunday, the town’s residents are attempting to piece their lives back together – and well-wishers from across the country are eager to help them do so.

Almost every business in the 400-person town – of which there are only a handful – put donation boxes at their checkouts on Tuesday.

At the Valero gas station, located just across the street from First Baptist Church, customers dutifully stuck their change into the cardboard box while updating the cashier, Judy, on how their friends and family members were doing.

“People are dropping their change in; people are dropping bills in there,” Judy told The Independent. “It’s amazing.”

San Antonio resident Dick Tips thought of another way to help families with the funeral expenses: His business, Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries, is offering free caskets to any of the victim’s families. At least one of the families, he said, had already taken him up on the offer.

While Mr Tips did not know any of the victims personally, he does have two children of his own: 5-year-old twins. He said he was heartbroken by reports of the 12 to 14 children children who had died in the shooting.

“We were not put on this earth to bury children,” the funeral director said.

Patricia Diaz, a cashier at Dollar General, said her Sutherland Springs store had donated bread, peanut butter, jelly, and water to those affected by the shooting. Many friends and family members of the victims were still huddled together at a church down the street, away from the media circus.

Several friends and family members had also started GoFundMe accounts, to pay for everything from hospital bills to funeral services.

L David Givler told The Independent he'd started a GoFundMe for his friend John Holcombe. Mr Holcombe is a Sunday school teacher and webmaster at First Baptist Church, and attended on Sunday with the rest of his family. He lost nine family members in the shooting, including his pregnant wife, Crystal, and her five children.

Mr Givler said he could remember the moment when Mr Holcombe and his wife were first married.

“John married Crystal and he took their children, just as if they were his own blood,” he said. “It was a beautiful story until this tragedy hit.”

Texas official says mass shooting victims included 18 month-old

In the 22 hours since the GoFundMe was posted, it had raised $200,000 (£152,000) – blowing past the $72,000 goal that Mr Givler initially set to help cover funeral expenses. Along with the donations, Mr Givler said, came messages of hope and solidarity.

“There are a lot of people who feel helpless, and yet they want to be part of the solution,” he said. “That’s been amazingly healing for me, and I’m looking forward to printing this all out and showing it to John and his family.”

Residents embrace during a candlelight vigil for victims (Reuters)

Others poured into Sutherland Springs from around the state to help, bringing prayers, hugs and teddy bears.

Donna Watkins and her husband, James, drove from Corpus Christi to set up shop on the town’s main intersection. They unloaded a fold-up table, dozens of stuffed animals, and a sign reading “prayers for families affected by homicide.”

The stuffed animals, she explained, were for the children affected by the shooting.

“This is something they can hold and squeeze; get mad at; throw; cry; tell them how you’re feeling – and it’s going to stay,” said Ms Watkins, who had lost her brother to homicide.

Down the street, two chaplains from the Church at Work ministry were offering prayers to passerby. Chaplain Lee Thompson came from Dallas, and Tim Kiyuna from Austin, to “spread light” in a dark time. They wanted to pray with residents, they said, but would also simply give them a shoulder to cry on.

Mr Kiyuna described one elderly Sutherland Springs resident who had thanked him for stopping to have a conversation with her.

“In all the commotion, she felt like she’d been left behind,” he said.

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