Community remembers 26 killed in Sutherland Springs one year later

With heads bowed in prayer, flags at half mast and crosses adorning the fencing outside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, hundreds of family, friends and community members united in solidarity on Sunday, remember the lives lost and commemorating those who survived.

On November 5, 2017, 26 people were killed inside the church and 20 others were wounded. Monday marks the one-year anniversary of what's considered one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent US history. 

For survivors like 40-year-old John Holcombe, every passing day is a learning process for him and his 8 year-old daughter Evelyn. They were both inside the church last year when nine of Holcombe's family members were killed during the attack, including his pregnant wife and their unborn child. 

"Evelyn knows mom's in Heaven and her sisters and her brother and her unborn sibling-- we didn't know if it was a boy or a girl-- she knows they're in heaven. And she knows her grandparents-- my mom and dad-- and her uncle, Danny-- my brother and my niece-- are in Heaven," Holcombe said. 

"It's a good positive energy here today and it shows that God is at work in our community and in our Church. And that good will still triumph over evil," Holcombe continued. 

Holcombe said he doesn't remember how many times he was hit last year, just that he was shot several times by the gunman. 

"There were several bullets. I didn't really count them. I was just praying. I was praying and I think that God still has a reason for me or I wouldn't be here," Holcombe said. 

In the months that followed one of the deadliest massacres in US history, the congregation at First Baptist Church grew significantly, nearly tripling in size. 

People like Stephen Willeford are now devoted, active members of the congregation.

"We went from a membership of around 50 at the time of the shooting last year to now 160 to 200 people regular attendance," Willeford said. 

Willeford believes he was called by God to intervene that day. The 56-year-old ran over to the church, shot the gunman several times and chased him for several miles until police were able to catch up. But he doesn't consider himself a hero. 

"I just want to be considered part of my community. I want to tell people and explain to people to be ready for whatever God's plan is for you. You don't have to be ready with a gun to run into the fight. Be ready with what God has trained you to do," Willeford said.

"November 5th didn't define who Sutherland Springs is. November 5th just shined a light on who Sutherland Springs already was for the rest of the world to see. We're the community that sticks together. The community that helps each other," Willeford continued.