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A family praying in church is wiped out by shooter

Laura Torres (right) and Sonia Yanez visited a line of crosses Monday before a vigil for the victims of Sunday's First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Laura Torres (right) and Sonia Yanez visited a line of crosses Monday before a vigil for the victims of Sunday's First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — One minute the Holcombes were a tight-knit family praying in the tiny church on Fourth Street. The next, eight of them were gone.

Bryan and Karla Holcombe, a guest preacher and his wife, were dead.

Their son Marc Daniel Holcombe, gone. Their pregnant daughter-in-law, Crystal Holcombe, gone.

And four of their grandchildren — Noah, Emily, Megan, and Greg — gone.

According to Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr., as many as half of the victims of the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Spring were children.

And Devin Kelley nearly wiped out the Holcombe family, leaving Joe Holcombe, 86, Bryan’s father, to mourn the loss of the generations he had raised.

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“We know where they are now,” he said in an interview, his voice strained by exhaustion. “All of our family members, they’re all Christian. And it won’t be long until we’re with them.”

It is a cruelty of mass shootings that they sometimes inflict double or triple blows on families, killing one brother while injuring another. But even in a nation accustomed to attacks of larger and larger proportions, the scale of the Holcombes’ loss was particularly brutal.

The Holcombes lived in homes near one another on a family farm in the woods around Sutherland Springs. Family life centered on the farm and religion. Bryan Holcombe was a guest preacher at Sutherland Springs on the day he died.

The day before, his daughter-in-law Crystal was at the county 4-H competition surrounded by her children, at least one of whom won an award, said Bob Baker, a Sutherland Springs resident who attended the event.

A few days before that, Noah, 18 months, was bouncing on employees’ desks at her father’s office, digging into Halloween jack-o’-lanterns full of leftover candy.

Her father, Marc Daniel Holcombe, went by Danny, and worked as a mechanic at F&W Electrical in Floresville.

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At F&W on Monday, employees were red-eyed and trembling. One of their star employees was dead. Danny had just celebrated his 15-year anniversary with the company. He worked 10- to 12-hour days and was known in the company as “MacGyver” because he could find a fix to nearly any problem.

He took his faith seriously and liked to pull up Bible verses using an app on his phone. When he saw Jennifer Kincaid last week and spotted a fog light out on her car, he insisted he would fix it Monday.

“I think that’s hit everyone hard, to know that not only is he gone,” Kincaid said, “but his daughter is gone as well.”

Danny and his wife had tried for a baby for a long time, Kincaid added, and when she got pregnant, his wife “quit her job and devoted her life to having that baby and being a mom.”

Danny and his father, Bryan, were “clones,” said another colleague, Jay Dunn. They both had red beards and shared a quirky sense of humor. Dunn said that whenever they were patching up a machine and were not sure the fix would last, Danny would joke that “it would hold until the Rapture.”

Bryan was a local business owner who made custom canvas covers for trailers, Dunn said. Danny’s mother, Karla, was involved in the vacation Bible school, and she ran a Bible school clinic for other churches, even lending props to them.

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The community hosted a vigil for victims Monday, gathering to remember the Holcombes and others. But Dunn said he had not attended because “their entire family is pretty much gone.”

“There wasn’t anyone left to console,” he said.

Another victim of the shooting was Annabelle Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy. Both he and his wife were out of town, in different states, on Sunday.

‘‘Heaven truly gained a real beautiful angel this morning along with many more,’’ the girl’s uncle, Scott Pomeroy, lamented on his Facebook page, posting a picture of the smiling girl poolside in a bathing suit.

All those robbed of life in Sunday’s blood bath, he wrote, ‘‘have taken their last breath of dirty air and took their first breath of heavenly air with new bodies with no pain and suffering.’’