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26 killed in church attack in Texas' deadliest mass shooting

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding at least 16 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.

Authorities didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials — one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.

The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

In a brief statement, the Pentagon confirmed he had served in the Air Force "at one point." Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said records show that Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge. 

Stefanek said Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on one count of assault on his spouse and another count of assault on their child and discharged two years later. He received a bad conduct discharge, 12 months' confinement and a reduction in rank.

At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the First Baptist Church around 11:20 a.m.

The gunman crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled. As he left, he was confronted by an armed resident who chased him. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line, Martin said.

Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive for the attack.

He said 23 of the dead were found dead in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

Addressing the news conference, Gov. Greg Abbott called the attack the worst mass shooting in Texas history. "There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today," Abbott said. "Our hearts are heavy at the anguish in this small town, but in time of tragedy, we see the very best of Texas. May God comfort those who've lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities."

In Japan, President Donald Trump called the shooting "an act of evil," denounced the violence in "a place of sacred worship" and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief "Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong."

Trump ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff to honor those killed in the mass shooting at the Texas church.

Among those killed was the church pastor's 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town in two different states when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP.

"We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can."

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small rural community of a few hundred residents 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI's evidence collection team.

At least 16 wounded were taken to hospitals, hospital officials said, including eight taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center. Another eight victims were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center, located in Floresville about 10 miles from the church, including four who were later transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio for higher-level care, said spokeswoman Megan Posey.

Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone else in the sparsely populated county.

"This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town," Berlanga said. "Everybody's going to be affected and everybody knows someone who's affected."

Regina Rodriguez, who arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting, walked up to the police barricade and hugged a person she was with. She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn't been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.

Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, wasn't at Sunday's service, but he said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, was among the dead.

"We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday," he said, shaking his head. "This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men's Bible study, vacation Bible school. Somebody went in and started shooting."

"We're shocked. Shocked and dismayed," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs, a rural community known for its peanut festival, which was held last month. "It's especially shocking when it's such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving."

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In a video of its Oct. 8 service, a congregant who spoke and read Scripture pointed to the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting a week earlier as evidence of the "wicked nature" of man. That shooting left 58 dead and more than 500 injured.

(VIDEO) Cyclone athletic, fine arts complex nears finish line

DENVER — Denver High School’s cramped gym and stage will soon be displaced by a new venue for student performances and competitions.

For the past year, the $10.4 million Cyclone athletics and fine arts complex has been under construction next to Denver Community Schools’ sports fields, about a half mile from campus. And it’s close to being done.

In recent weeks, workers have been busy completing the building’s interior, particularly the 500-seat auditorium.

“We’re not too far away from having students coming in,” said Superintendent Brad Laures during a recent tour of the facility near Donna and Schneider streets.

The fall play will be held there Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. A week later, the public will be invited to the building’s dedication. District residents will then have plenty of opportunities to make use of the facilities.

“The community will have access to get in here,” said Laures.

People will enter on the north end of the building into a two-story lobby with walls made of glass.


John Gosnell paints the Denver Cyclone logo on the basketball court at the new Denver athletic/fine arts complex Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, in Denver, Iowa.

Nearby stairs and an elevator will take people to the 200-meter walking track that circles the gymnasium below.

A bank of windows along one wall of the track looks out onto the lobby.

“This will be a publicly accessible walking track,” said Scott Krebsbach, president of the Board of Education. “There will be open hours for the public.”

Community members also will be able to use the weight training and cardiovascular equipment in and next to the weight room on the second floor.

A press box overlooking the football field and track on the east side of the building accessed from the second floor, as well. The space — which has room for reporters, announcers and coaches — has been in use this fall. It is named for longtime resident and community booster Art Kurtt.(tncms-asset)0a84b012-c00f-11e7-a2d8-00163ec2aa77[1](/tncms-asset)

Students put their mark on the building via three exposed steel beams at the top of the stairs outside of the second floor doorway. Children signed their names on beams earlier in the building process. In the case of elementary school students, each class covered whole sections of the beams with their signatures.

Coordinating that process is “one of the things that I am most proud of,” said Krebsbach. “It’s something they’re going to be able to look at, they’ll see, for the rest of their lives.”

The gym and locker rooms are on the east side of the complex. Four playing courts in the gym can be used for practices and recreational sports. Those are contained in two competition courts for varsity and junior varsity sports.

The courts will be divided by a stack of bleachers that will seat the hometown crowd on the varsity gym side. On the other side of the court will be seating for the opposing team. More seating will be available for the junior varsity court.

All together, the gym will be able to seat up to 1.500 people.

The auditorium, on the west side of the complex, contains stadium-style seating designed to create clear sight lines to the stage for audience members. It was built with performances in mind, unlike the current space in the high school’s gym.

“Our fine arts kids have taken a back seat for way too long,” said Laures, of the need for the auditorium. “It was designed acoustically whereas a gym isn’t designed acoustically.”

The community is responsible for funding the new facility. A $7.2 million bond issue was approved by voters in February 2016 and will be repaid through increased property taxes. The district is also using $1.5 million in 1 percent sales tax revenues and $500,000 in physical plant and equipment levy funds.

The remaining $1.2 million is being covered through a fundraising campaign. “There are two key donors that stepped forward,” said Krebsbach: Marvin and Helen Schumacher and Bill and Pat Buss.

Among the other individual donors are past board members Carter Stevens and Dave Larson. Denver Savings Bank has been a corporate donor, whose contributions include the scoreboards in the gym.

But the district is still looking for more donations. Opportunities are available for all kinds of sponsorships, including paying for seating in the gym and auditorium.

“We still have $170,000 left to fundraise,” said Laures, who noted they are “still getting donations here and there. We really want to make sure we hit that goal.”

‘Ban the box’ may hurt some applying for jobs

DES MOINES — Advocates for criminal justice reforms have sought laws that prevent an employer from asking, on job applications, whether an applicant has a criminal record.

So-called “ban the box” or “fair chance” laws are designed to prevent employers from discriminating against individuals who have committed a crime but completed their sentence. Such discrimination often disproportionately impacts minorities, especially blacks, studies have shown.

A pair of recent studies, however, suggest ban the box or fair chance laws may have the opposite impact and actually make it harder for minorities to get from an application to a job interview.

Iowa criminal justice reform advocates said they still think ban the box or fair chance laws can be helpful tools, and disputed the studies’ findings.

“Critics of ban the box suggest there are unintended consequences of the law, in that employers might engage in racial discrimination, hurting the very population the policies were implemented to help. This study however, finds no evidence of racial discrimination in the public sector context,” Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa and Nebraska chapters of the NAACP, said in an email interview with the bureau.

“While there is a long journey ahead to ensure equal hiring standards for all who have been through the criminal justice system, the evidence evokes true optimism about the social and economic possibilities for this population,” Andrews said.

One recent study of ex-offenders in Massachusetts found that regardless of race people with criminal records were less likely to get jobs after ban the box laws were implemented than before, according to a report for the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan public policy and research organization.

The study, conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, found after a ban the box law was implemented in Massachusetts, the average employment rate of individuals with a criminal record declined by 2.6 percentage points when compared with the average employment rate of individuals without a criminal record.

“We find that contrary to the intended goal, the CORI Reform has a small negative effect on ex- offenders’ employment that grows over time, with mixed effects on earnings and industry composition,” the study says.

Another recent study of private, for-profit employers in New York and New Jersey found after ban the box was implemented more white applicants got called back than black applicants, the Pew report said.

In that study, online job applications from fictitious men with distinctly white and black names were sent to employers before and after the application of ban the box laws. Before ban the box, white applicants received 7 percent more callbacks than similar black applicants; with ban the box in place, white applicants received 43 percent more callbacks than black applicants.

“We have two very good studies that show it’s really hurting young black men who don’t have college degrees and who struggle in the labor market for other reasons,” Jennifer Doleac, an economics professor at the University of Virginia who has studied ban the box laws and thinks they should be scrapped, said in the Pew report. “If this law is getting people interviewed for jobs they’re never going to get, that can become discouraging for job seekers and a waste of everyone’s time.”

Doleac also published her own paper that found young black and Latino men without a college degree were, respectively, 5 percent and 3 percent less likely to be employed after ban the box than they were before it, the Pew report says.

“Racial discrimination is a problem and pervasive in a lot of settings. I think these studies really show though that employers are perfectly happy to hire young black men when they can ask” about their criminal history, Doleac told Pew. “They seem to care more about a criminal record than race.”

Iowa advocates for criminal justice reform, however, said they question the studies’ findings and remain convinced ban the box and fair chance laws will help rehabilitated individuals with a criminal past find employment.

“It’s a big deal. It’s a matter of fairness,” said David Walker, a retired professor who taught in Drake University’s law school.

Walker, the regional NAACP and other advocates have pushed for a ban the box law in Iowa. In 2016 a bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate but failed to advance past the early stages of the legislative process.

Supporters of the bill said it would not prevent any employer from eventually looking into an applicant’s criminal history. It only would prevent employers from asking about criminal history on the initial job application.

“(The bill’s goal) was hoping that people would get to have a face-to-face interview to have a chance to meet the person, not just see the statistic,” said Russell Lovell, another retired Drake University law school professor.

A total of 29 states have ban the box laws at least for public employers; Iowa does not. Nine states, including Illinois and Minnesota, extend the laws to private employers, according to the National Employment Law Project. The New York-based organization publishes research on workers issues and advocates for policies that create jobs and expand access to work.

The NAACP disputed the methodology of the two East Coast studies that suggested ban the box and fair chance laws actually make it more difficult for individuals with a criminal record to get past the job application stage. Andrews pointed to another recent study that suggests those laws work as intended.

Conducted by an economics professor at Connecticut College, the study found ban the box laws for public employees increase by 5 percentage points the probability of employment for a public employee with a criminal record.

“Even if increased racial discrimination occurred after ban the box laws were implemented, this would underscore the need for better and more strictly enforced anti-discrimination laws,” Andrews said. “We know that racial discrimination in employment is persistent. Shouldn’t this discussion about ban the box lead to a deeper commitment to addressing this issue.”

No recommendation, but Northey has discussed his replacement with Reynolds

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey has discussed his replacement with Gov. Kim Reynolds, but has not recommended who should succeed him if his nomination to be a USDA undersecretary is approved.

Northey, 57, a third-term Republican, was nominated in September to be undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation. Although Northey was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee, he’s in political limbo because Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has placed a hold on the nomination. Cruz is seeking concessions from the EPA on its application of the Renewable Fuel Standard that would be more favorable for oil producers and refiners.

If his nomination is approved, Northey will resign from his current post and Reynolds will appoint someone to serve the remainder of his term, which expires in January 2019.

Although Reynolds’ spokeswoman, Brenna Smith, said until Northey’s nomination has been confirmed, “the governor’s office does not have anything new to say,” Northey said they’ve talked “just a little bit.”

“We talked mostly about the kinds of things I did and what I thought was important ... understanding water quality issues and being able to manage the department in case we get another round of budget cuts,” Northey said.

“She had a great feel for this already. She’s been close to this,” he added, “but it was a chance to talk to her about those things she thinks are important.”

Northey hasn’t recommended who should be his replacement.

“I know there are people out there indicating preferences one way or another,” he said.

Among them are Sen. Chuck Grassley, a co-chairman of Reynolds’ 2018 campaign. He’s made clear he’d like to see his grandson, State Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, named to the post. It has been rumored for some time that the younger Grassley would run for the post if Northey didn’t seek re-election. Some people see it as a steppingstone to succeeding his 84-year-old grandfather in the U.S. Senate.

Among the other names that have been mentioned are state Sens. Tim Kapucian of Keystone and Dan Zumbach of Ryan, former Rep. Annette Sweeney of Alden and Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Republican Craig Lang of Brooklyn, a farmer who previously was president of the Board of Regents and the Iowa Farm Bureau, is planning to run for the post in 2018.

For Northey, his successor is “something I want to let the governor be able have her choice on. I certainly will support her choice.”