Vice President of the United States Mike Pence visited Texas on Wednesday to meet with and mourn with victims and families of Sunday’s mass murder at First Baptist Church, expressing astonishment with the community of faith that remains grounded in God.
Rep. Will Hurd (R) of San Antonio, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) of Laredo, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions accompanied Pence and the second lady on the trip to Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott, his wife Cecilia, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick greeted Pence and the second lady when the vice president’s plane landed at Randolph Air Force Base.
The group continued on to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where they visited privately with victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting. Pence would speak of his interactions with the injured in later speeches at the site of the massacre and an evening vigil with the community and families of the fallen.
From the medical center, Pence went on to a law enforcement briefing at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. He also addressed a crowd gathered at the site.
Pence said of the recovering victims with whom they had just met, “We were deeply moved by their faith and their resilience.” Members of law enforcement, the two congressmen, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stood by the vice president’s side.
The vice president added that they would later meet with families of those who were killed and “put [their] arms around them and assure them that every American has them in their hearts.”
Pence told those gathered that President Donald Trump had asked him to be there with the members of the church to convey the message, “We are with you.”
“The Bible tells us that “the Lord is close to the broken-hearted” and that will be our prayer for you and for this whole community,” said Pence. “We gather today to grieve with those who grieve, but also, we gather in the resolve that this evil must come to an end in our land.”
He assured the group that President Trump has directed the administration to provide “the full measure of federal resources to Gov. Abbott and state and local authorities. The attorney general has informed me there is already more than 100 FBI personnel working on the case here in Texas.”
Pence also spoke of government failures, allowing the perpetrator to obtain a weapon: “We now know it was a crime that the assailant was ever able to purchase a firearm in the first place. He lied on his application, had a history of mental illness, and there were bureaucratic failures.” He said that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson assured him that a review of the error would be completed in days. Pence added that the Department of Defense is conducting its own review.
He went on to laud the first responders and the two men who chased down the assailant during the attack, Johnnie Langendorff and Stephen Willeford: “These two brave men undoubtedly saved lives.” Langendorff was present for Pence’s remarks.
Pence then spoke of the inspiring community of faith there, including First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, who were present during Pence’s remarks. He spoke of those who survived and those who died: “We just met Gunny Macias, who is recovering from serious injuries, shot five times. But I was told, despite his injuries, that Marine stood up and was triaging the scene, barking out orders. And we think of Joann Ward, who laid down her life shielding her children, ultimately saving her son.”
“Faith is stronger than evil,” said the vice president. “I had one of the family members at the hospital today tell me that they feel the prayers of the American people.”
From the church, the Pence’s traveled to Floresville High School to first meet with families whose loved ones were killed in the mass shooting and then participate in a candlelight vigil. Between 70 and 80 family members were gathered in the high school’s library to meet with the vice president.
“Words fail when saints and heroes fall. We gather tonight to offer our deepest condolences, and I offer the condolences of the American people to all of those affected by the horrific attack that took place just three days ago,” began Pence. “Your testimony of Christian love is inspiring the nation.”
Vice President Pence recounted the “unspeakable act” that took place last Sunday at First Baptist when a “deranged man … took the lives of 26 believers, including nine children, and injured 20 more before his rampage came to an end.” The shooting has been reported as the worst mass shooting in Texas history, but Pence added that it was “the worst mass shooting at a place of worship in American history.”
Pence named murdered 16-year-old Haley Krueger, who “already knew she wanted to be a neonatal nurse and care for the most vulnerable in society.”
Next, he mentioned “Shani and Robert Corrigan, a 30-year veteran of the United States Air Force, two high school sweethearts, whose son had just passed away just a year ago.”
The Holcombe family was mentioned next, eight of whom died, including mother Crystal Holcombe, her unborn child, and children Emily, Megan, and Greg.
“To the families of these, and all the fallen, we extend the deepest sympathies of the first family, our little family, and all the American people,” said Pence. “The Bible tells us that “the Lord is close to the broken-hearted,” and that will be our prayer for you from this day forward.”
He recalled visits with injured survivors in the hospital just hours earlier. “Young Zach” lost his grandmother, but even in the midst of injury and shooting, he “saved a little girl from stepping into harm’s way,” said Pence. David Colbath, recovering from serious injuries, held a men’s Bible study in his hospital room Tuesday night and on Wednesday prayed for the vice president and second lady before they left his hospital room. “Young” James and Hailey McNulty were deemed “two of the bravest kids” Pence every met. “We were inspired by the resilience and the faith of the people that we met and by the families coming around them.”
Pence heralded the “courage of a mother, Joann Ward, who shielded her children with her own body, and in death, saved her five-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter, through her last moment.”
He spoke of a community of faith, both those who lost and those who survived, that has inspired a nation: “expressions of faith that we just heard in the library from families who told us that they were standing on the Rock,” he said.
Pence marveled at First Baptist Pastor Pomeroy, still grieving the loss of his teenage daughter, recounting Pomeroy’s words to the world: “Lean on the Lord rather than your own understanding. … I don’t understand, but I know my God does.”
“If the attacker’s desire was to silence their testimony of faith, he failed,” said Pence.
Americans come together and “support our fellow Americans in their hour of need,” he said. “Faith is stronger than evil.”
“I hope that places of worship all across America will be filled to overflowing,” Pence said to applause from the vigil crowd.
Second lady Karen Pence closed with a prayer: “Lord, thank You for being here right now with us. Father, sometimes the burdens just seem too heavy to carry, the loss too great. But Your word says, ‘My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.’ So Lord, today, we need You to come and carry this load.” She continued, “In this dark hour, Heavenly Father, help these precious believers know how wide and long and deep is the love of Christ, who conquered death. And we pray all of these things in Your precious name. Amen.”
Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana.