A New Church Will Rise After A Shooting Shakes The Community

May 5, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It has been six months since a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, left more than two dozen people dead and 20 others injured. Today, congregants at the First Baptist Church are breaking ground on what will be the new sanctuary. Texas Public Radio's Joey Palacios spent time in Sutherland Springs this week to catch up with community members and the family of some of the victims.

JOEY PALACIOS, BYLINE: Each week, a group of First Baptist Church members meets for Bible study and dinner service in the fellowship hall.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hi, let's open up with a word of prayer. Daryl (ph), would you mind praying for us?

PALACIOS: There's a prayer list handed out. It's got the names of the 20 survivors. On the list is 6-year-old Ryland Ward. He was shot five times and spent two months in a San Antonio hospital. His grandmother Sandy Ward watches kids play basketball.

SANDY WARD: Oh, Ryland is doing great. He's - the only thing he has left - he has a colostomy bag on that they're supposed take out in June or July. And other than that he's doing great. He's - but he is still in therapy.

PALACIOS: Her daughter-in-law Joann Ward died in the shooting, along with Ryland's sisters Brooke and Emily. Another sister Rihanna survived. Ward says in the following weeks help came from friends, neighbors and a donation drive from her doctor.

WARD: And they gave us money for gas to go back and forth for hospital stuff. And I mean, there were people bringing meals and everything else. Now we're just trying to get back to normal more - with the kids in school going every day, get back to work. But it's still ever - every few days or so, I will have a - think about it, and something will set me off, and I'll, you know, break down a bit. But I get over it pretty quick.

PALACIOS: The original church still serves as a memorial. But since the shooting, congregants have worshipped in a temporary building, the walls of which are decorated with memorial art sent in from across the country. Wendy Choate (ph) is the church secretary.

WENDY CHOATE: The mood is still hanging onto each other. There's apprehension, which is to be expected. But we're all grouping together and working together and helping each other out. We don't let each other down.

PALACIOS: Pat Duke (ph) is a church member and part of the Restoration Committee. He says part of today's groundbreaking ceremony will include a prayer walk around the site of the new First Baptist Church.

PAT DUKE: And part of that is to commemorate and honor a lady named Karla that walked our property for years, praying that it would be given to the church. We want to make sure that it starts out right and before a single spade of shovels or dirt is moved that we started out with prayer.

PALACIOS: He's talking about Karla Holcombe. Her husband, Bryan, was the guest pastor the day of the shooting. They and six of their family members died. Although on the surface, the new church may be a simple building, but for people who live here, it's much more - a monument to faith in God and community that residents say will never be shaken. For NPR News, I'm Joey Palacios in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE'S "ELK RIVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.