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Vice President Pence Visits Small Texas Community Following Deadly Shooting


Authorities in Texas have released a list of the people who died in the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. The 26 victims include eight children, three generations of one family, and a pregnant woman who under Texas law counts as two victims. People in the community are also reacting to news that the gunman had been court-martialed by the Air Force for assaulting his wife and baby stepson, but that information was never entered into an FBI database. It should have prohibited him from buying a gun from a federal firearms dealer.

NPR's John Burnett joins us from Stockdale, which is just down the road from Sutherland Springs. Hi, John.


MCEVERS: So what are people saying about this new information?

BURNETT: Well, people here in Wilson County are understandably angry. This is a really pro-gun area, but people believe in playing by the rules. With that court martial, the gunman should have failed the mandatory federal background check when he bought some of his weapons at an academy store in San Antonio. That's not to say he couldn't have purchased a gun from an individual seller at a gun show. I spoke with Albert Gamez Jr. He's a county commissioner who knew several of the victims personally.

ALBERT GAMEZ JR: Out here, I know that if it's an assault of - especially on the family violence, it is a felony here. I mean, I get that's why a lot of people are upset. I mean, how can he - can go purchase a gun when you have something like that already in your record, especially violent - family violence?

MCEVERS: Right because under federal law, if you're convicted of domestic violence, you are not supposed to own a gun.


MCEVERS: What else are you hearing from people down there?

BURNETT: Well, we have part of an interview conducted by Joey Palacios from member station KSTX in San Antonio. He spoke at length with Lagena Garcia. She and her family live less than two blocks from the whitewashed Baptist Church where the shooting took place. On Sunday morning, when she heard the shots, she grabbed her three kids along with two of her own guns and hid in her bathroom for an hour. She was baptized at the church. She says she used to be in the congregation. And she still considers it the center of community life.

LAGENA GARCIA: That really bothers me that - I do not want this to turn into something that, you know, is going to completely scar this community for the rest of history, for this to be, you know - oh, it was the biggest massacre. I don't want it to go down like that.

MCEVERS: And John, who else did you talk to down there?

BURNETT: Today I met Pastor John Conrad. He has the pulpit at First Lutheran Church in Floresville. We talked in his church office while outside his parishioners wrapped Christmas presents for foster kids. Conrad has a unique perspective on the church shooting, which I'll get to in a second. But first, let's hear this cut of tape in which he responds to people who say resolutely that good will somehow come out of this tragic event.

JOHN CONRAD: And that is true, but the first reality is the reality of evil that we deal with. And you know, people like to think there is no such thing as evil, but I dare you to go through an experience like that and then tell me that.

BURNETT: And Pastor Conrad is visibly shaken by the presence of evil these days.

MCEVERS: And you said he had an unique perspective on this. What did you mean by that?

BURNETT: As it happens, John Conrad used to be pastor at a Lutheran church in Parker, Colorado, a suburb of Denver not far from Columbine High School. He was one of the clergy who responded to the mass shooting at the school in 1999. Twelve students and a teacher were murdered. He was profoundly affected by that experience, as you might imagine, and he was one of the local clergy who raced to the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church on Sunday morning.

CONRAD: It's all the same thing. It's the hysteria, the shock, the people, you know, screaming out in just disbelief and - you know, as a pastor, I deal with funerals all the time. But it's like you just get the whole pile at once. You know, it's - and when you've got families that are losing multiple family members, it's really heavy.

MCEVERS: That's Pastor John Conrad and NPR's John Burnett. Thank you so much.

BURNETT: My pleasure, Kelly. 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.