By Paul J. Weber and Emily Schmall / Associated Press
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — The Texas church where more than two dozen people were killed by a gunman during Sunday services will be demolished, the pastor said.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy told leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this week that it would be too painful to continue using First Baptist Church as a place of worship.
A national Southern Baptist spokesman said Pomeroy discussed the plan with the denomination’s top executives, who traveled to the rural community in a show of support.
The spokesman, Sing Oldham, said the pastor described the building as “too stark of a reminder” of the massacre. Pomeroy expressed hope he could turn the site into a memorial for the dead and put up a new building on property the church owns.
Other sites of mass shootings also have been torn down, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. A new school was built elsewhere.
A one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was torn down in 2006, 10 days after a gunman took children hostage and shot and killed five girls ages 6 to 13.
The previous site of the school is now a pasture. A nearly identical schoolhouse with a security fence was erected nearby and named New Hope School.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at a memorial service for the victims of the gunman.
Pence told the crowd that the attack was the worst mass shooting at a church in American history and called the gunman “deranged.”
“Whatever animated the evil that descended on that small church, if the attacker’s desire was to silence their testimony of faith, they failed,” the vice president added.
The governor said Texans come together at times of crisis and tragedy. “It’s what we do,” Abbott said. People in the crowd responded “amen.”
He also proclaimed Sunday, Nov. 12 a statewide day of prayer.
Pence also visited with wounded congregants at a San Antonio hospital and met with families of the dead in Floresville, not far from Sutherland Springs. He went from table to table at a high school library, attempting to console devastated family members.
“The whole country is praying over you,” he told one man who lost his sister-in-law.
He stopped to talk with John Holcombe, whose family was decimated by the shooting. Holcombe, who suffered shrapnel wounds, lost his wife, Crystal, who was pregnant with their first child. Also killed were three of her children, his parents, a brother and a toddler niece.
Pence hugged 7-year-old Evelyn Hill, who survived by running out of the church.
Earlier Wednesday, Pence said President Donald Trump had ordered federal agencies to provide extensive help to the investigation, including 100 on-site FBI agents.
Also Wednesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety released an official list of those killed in the rampage. The eight male victims and 17 female victims ranged in age from 1 to 77.
Eight of the fatalities were children or teenagers. The oldest of them was 16.
Authorities said the 26 dead also included Crystal Holcombe’s unborn baby. All the victims died at the scene, except for one child who died at a hospital.
Eleven people remained hospitalized with wounds they suffered in the attack.
Associated Press Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York contributed to this report.