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Sunday November 19th, 2017 2:36PM

Residents of Texas town feel helpless after church shooting

By The Associated Press
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SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — Volunteers donated blood at a community hall and others stocked the refrigerator and laid out loaves of bread at a food pantry as the stunned community of Sutherland Springs struggled to recover from the shooting at a Baptist church that left more than two dozen dead.

Law enforcement officials reopened the intersection Thursday where the First Baptist Church sits, but black mesh material was tied to the chain-link fence surrounding it. With the church door open, a tall wooden cross could be seen at the altar.

Judy and Rod Green, who married at the church 15 years ago, prepared Thursday to open the By His Grace food pantry next door for a weekly Friday morning meal service.

A few blocks away, Alice Garcia, a Sutherland Springs native and the president of the unincorporated town's community association, prepared with her husband, Oscar, the annual Veterans Day memorial on the grounds of the community hall, when the church victims with military backgrounds will receive a full military salute.

"Everyone in the community is doing what they can, but honestly everyone feels so helpless," 20-year-old Karyssa Calbert of neighboring Floresville, Texas, said at the hall.

Six months pregnant, Calbert couldn't donate blood but came to the community hall to offer moral support. "People are donating time, donating money, donating prayers, but it still feels like it's not enough," she said.

The church will be demolished, the pastor said.

Pastor Frank Pomeroy told leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention earlier this week that it would be too painful to continue using First Baptist Church as a place of worship.

Pomeroy discussed the state of the building with the denomination's top executives, who traveled to the rural community in a show of support, a national Southern Baptist spokesman said.

The pastor described the church as "too stark of a reminder" of the massacre, spokesman Sing Oldham said.

No final decisions can be made without consulting congregants, but Pomeroy discussed turning the site into a memorial for the dead and putting up a new building on property the church owns, Oldham said.

Valeria Villasenor, an assistant to the church, said she and others were trying to figure out a temporary solution "to have our doors open for our congregation," whether by cleaning up and painting the church's interior or holding services in a different building.

Charlene Uhl, mother of 16-year-old Haley Krueger, who died in the attack, agreed that the church should come down.

There should still be a church "but not here," she said Thursday.

Jeannie Brown, visiting from Indiana, stopped at the site with her daughter, who used to live in Sutherland Springs but left decades ago for San Antonio.

Asked whether the church should be destroyed, Brown said: "Yes. Who would want to go back in there? But then if it is destroyed, does that mean he (the gunman) won?"

Other sites of mass shootings have been torn down, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. A new school was built elsewhere.

A one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was torn down in 2006, 10 days after an assailant took children hostage and shot and killed five girls ages 6 to 13.

The previous site of the school is now a pasture. A nearly identical schoolhouse with a security fence was erected nearby and named New Hope School.

The father of the Texas church gunman broke the family's silence and said his relatives are grieving.

Michael Kelley spoke to ABC News on Wednesday from his home in New Braunfels, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) north of Sutherland Springs.

He said he does not want the "media circus" surrounding the attack by Devin Patrick Kelley to destroy "our lives, our grandchildren's lives."

The gunman shot and killed 25 people at the church. Authorities have put the official toll at 26, because one of the victims was pregnant.

Eleven people injured in the attack remained in hospitals Thursday.

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Associated Press Religion Writer Rachel Zoll in New York and writer Tamara Lush in Sutherland Springs contributed to this report.

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