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What We Know From The Scene: Texas Church Shooting


I'm joined in studio by NPR's Ryan Lucas. And, Ryan, Nannette was telling us there has been a massive federal response on the ground. She said the ATF, the FBI. How typical is that? And tell us, what are they going to be looking for?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, what the ATF and FBI are going to be doing is providing all of the sort of resources and expertise that the federal government can bring to bear in an investigation like this. If there were multiple shots fired, you have a crime scene inside the church, stuff outside. They can help track down shell casings. They can help map the crime scene.

Really, all of the expertise that we know the FBI and the ATF have, this is what they can then provide local authorities to kind of figure out what happens. And they also get to help if there are leads in other parts of the state, other parts of the country. They can help interview folks who knew the suspect. So that's the sort of scope and scale of what a federal response brings.

KING: And presumably, one of the first things that they'll be looking for in this case is what was what - was the shooter's motive?

LUCAS: Exactly. Why did he do this? And that's the big question hanging over this right now, just as that was the big question hanging over the shooting in Las Vegas. Sometimes you're able to get an answer to that, sometimes you're not. But that is definitely going to be one of the top questions on the list of what authorities are looking for.

KING: At what point in a situation like this does the FBI and the ATF get involved? I was - it was notable that Nannette said it sounds as though federal authorities arrived on the scene almost instantaneously. Is part of that because for, in a small town like Sutherlands Springs, you probably have a very small police department, if you have one at all?

LUCAS: That's definitely part of it, yes, a small-town police department. This is an unincorporated community as Nannette said on the phone. They're not going to have the sort of resources to conduct an investigation of this size. And so ATF, FBI will respond in that instance. And also, when you have a house of worship in this - in the numbers that were seen, I think it becomes fairly clear for federal authorities at some point that this is something that they need to chip in on.

KING: And I wonder, Ryan, in your coverage of these events - and you have covered these events for NPR in the past - does the response here strike you as fairly typical?

LUCAS: There doesn't seem really anything outside the ordinary here. No, it seems like fairly standard procedure.

KING: Colin Dwyer also with NPR has been following the news with us - for us here in Washington. Colin, what is the latest? And I guess the big question, Colin, is - we are seeing numerous and conflicting reports of the death toll. Do we have an exact death toll at this point?

COLIN DWYER, BYLINE: Well, of course, this number is going to be changing over time as we get to know what the situation was as it unfolded. For now, right now, an official told NPR that at least 26 people were killed in the course of the shooting. At least 10 others are injured. This shooting unfolded over a course of minutes just after 11:00 a.m., around 11:30. And this was during the course of a worship service. So there were about 40 parishioners in the building at the time.

KING: Do we know anything about those parishioners?

DWYER: We do know that, as Nannette mentioned, this is a central focus of the community. And partly for that reason, the church actually puts out videotaped sermons for the sake of those parishioners who were unable to make it on a given Sunday. And so they have videotaped sermons leading up to just this past weekend. And unfortunately, that actually probably spells the indication that the tape was running as this shooting unfolded, which is - while horrific, is going to perhaps help with understanding that motive that Ryan was speaking about.

KING: And do we know anything about why there hasn't been an official response just yet?

DWYER: Well, as Ryan mentioned, the simple fact of the matter is this is a very small rural community. They are not necessarily equipped to deal with a situation such as this. In the situation that we saw in New York City this past week where the terrorist attack unfolded, we got very quick responses and very quick information from the authorities on the ground. We're not seeing that as much this time around, but that's to be understood because New York City brings to bear a certain level of resources that this small community probably would not. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.