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A somber Veterans Day for small Texas community reeling from church massacre

First responders join in prayer following a Veterans Day event near the First Baptist Church Sutherland Springs in south Texas. (Eric Gay / Associated Press)

It was a somber Veterans Day in the small south Texas town where more than two dozen people were killed in a mass shooting — nearly half of them from military families with ties to the Air Force.

Around 100 residents, law enforcement officers and first responders gathered Saturday morning outside the community center in Sutherland Springs to pay tribute to the shooting victims with military backgrounds.

Six days earlier, 26-year-old Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and shot churchgoers. Among the dead was a pregnant woman whose fetus also perished in the gunfire.

At least 12 of the people killed were either Air Force members or had ties to that branch of the military, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein.

The special Veterans Day ceremony included a full military salute and remarks from U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, Wilson County Judge Richard Jackson and other dignitaries.

During the event, Jackson said he hoped the ceremony would help residents in the quiet town start the healing process. Later, first responders gathered in a circle and bowed their heads in prayer.

Alice Garcia, president of the Sutherland Springs Community Association, who attended the ceremony, said it was a way to honor those who had dedicated years of military service to their country and died in the “horrific tragedy.”

“The mood at the ceremony was emotional but at the same time honorable, especially to have dignitaries here that showed support for the community,” Garcia said.

Among the victims with military backgrounds were Robert Scott Marshall and his wife, Karen Sue Marshall, both 56.

Robert, who was a retiree, joined the Air Force after graduating high school. Karen served in the Air Force for nearly 25 years, according to a statement by the Texas Military Department. She was also a master sergeant in the Air National Guard and was in the process of retiring.

She recently finished a posting at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland before returning to Texas with her husband.

Other victims who had ties to the military include Shani Louise Corrigan, 51, and eight members of the Holcombe family, including Crystal Holcombe, who was eight months pregnant.

Sutherland Springs is a quiet small town about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio. It’s also near several military installations, including Lackland Air Force Base.

The shooting victims ranged in ages from 1 to 77 years old, according to authorities.

Kelley also had ties to the military, having served in the Air Force from 2010 until 2014. He was sentenced in 2012 to 12 months in military prison for assaulting his wife and young stepson, and received a bad-conduct discharge.

On Nov. 6, investigators said the Air Force’s failure to report the gunman’s history of domestic violence to an FBI database allowed him to pass background checks that would have otherwise barred him from purchasing guns.

Officials also said Kelley’s motive may stem from a domestic dispute he had with relatives who were congregation members, though they were not in church at the time of the shooting.

At the ceremony Saturday, residents of the grieving Texas town sat outside on white folding chairs, not far from the church where the shooting took place.

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© 2017 Los Angeles Times

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