Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Two months after the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history, support has poured in from across the country to help Sutherland Springs rebuild. One San Antonian's effort has raised more than $1 million for a new church.
"Our primary focus at this point has been victim's relief and support, which is everything from trying to get them resources for counseling to modifying homes for people who now have disabilities," said Pat Dzuik, chairman of a six-member restoration committee formed by First Baptist Church and community leaders seeking to restore normalcy in Sutherland Springs. "It kind of runs the full gamut.”
Along with coordinating donation and relief efforts, the committee is tasked with finding a new place of worship for the tiny town's growing congregation, Dzuik told the Rivard Report Friday. The previous Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church building – where the shootings occurred – has been turned into a memorial for the victims. For the first three weeks after the shooting, services were held in a nearby tent, then a temporary building was erected where services are now held.
Most congregants haven't missed a service since the shooting, Dzuik said.
Lone gunman Devin P. Kelley, a former U.S. Air Force airman with a history of domestic violence, killed 26 people and injured more than 20 when he attacked the congregation during services on Sunday, Nov. 5. Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
In the immediate aftermath, San Antonio roofing executive Brad Beldon announced his intention to rebuild the Sutherland Springs Church on a nearby empty lot. He launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking $2.5 million to fund that effort. As of Saturday afternoon, 489 people had donated to the effort and contributed more than $1.1 million dollars.
"I think we're making great progress," Beldon said via text message. "Unfortunately I experienced health issues most of December and had to slow down on the fundraising. I plan on going full steam ahead real soon."
It's been about one month since Beldon has sat down with local coordinators, but he plans to soon "formulate a game plan."
Committee member Mark Collins said Beldon is a "blessing."
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention launched its own campaign where interested donors can contribute financial aid to trauma and grief counseling, church rebuilding, and other needs.
"We've got those types of offers coming from all corners," Collins said. "Its still kind of in a dust cloud right now."
The restoration committee was formed 10 days after the shooting to ensure funds and services are allocated appropriately, Collins said. For instance, many donations to Beldon's efforts are in-kind gifts and the committee is working with donors to make sure they are used correctly.
The committee hears and votes on various service and infrastructure projects. Frank Pomeroy, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs whose 14-year-old daughter Annabelle Pomeroy was killed that day, is an advisor to the board, Collins said.
Input from congregants about what they would like to see in a new church have been trickling in, Collins said. The design may look similar to the previous church, but it will likely need to be bigger. Since the shooting, Sunday service attendance has grown to 250-300 people, he said. The previous church could hold only 100.
"My personal opinion, and this is only my personal opinion, is that the optimal situation here would be a combination of SBC [Southern Baptists of Texas Convention] and local people helping do this together," Dzuik said. "That's my goal."
While the committee focuses its attention on mending a grief-stricken town, Beldon continues to manage the dollars his campaign has raised so far.
"To try to move Heaven and Earth in eight weeks is a lot to try to manage," Dzuik said. "It's still really young."
But amid the task ahead, Collins sees resolve in the community.
"I see the folks getting stronger and getting back to what the new normal is going to look like," Collins said. "They're moving forward."