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About half of 26 mass shooting victims at Texas church were children, officials say

(Reuters/Mohammad Khursheed)Local residents embrace during a candlelight vigil for victims of a mass shooting in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S., November 5, 2017.

Texas officials have disclosed on Monday that about half of the 26 victims of the massacre at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs were children.

On Sunday, a gunman, identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, began firing outside the church at around 11.20 a.m. with an assault rifle and continued shooting inside, NBC News reported.

Twenty-three people died inside the church, two died outside, while one passed away at the hospital. Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said that 12 to 14 of the victims were kids.

The youngest victim was 18 months old and the eldest was 77, according to Freeman Martin, regional director of state Department of Public Safety. The authorities have previously stated that the victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old, but Martin clarified that those were the ages of the hospitalized victims. Martin noted that at least 20 people were injured in the attack.

Among those killed were eight members of one family, including a pregnant mother and three of her children.

Another one of Kelley's victims has been identified as Annabelle Pomeroy, daughter of First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was out of town during the attack. The pastor's wife, Sherri, said that "one thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement" was that Annabelle was surrounded by the church family she was close with.

"Our church was not comprised of members or parishioners. We were a very close family. We ate together, we laughed together, we cried together, and we worshiped together," she said.

"Now most of our church family is gone, our building is probably beyond repair. ... As senseless as this tragedy was, our sweet Belle would not have been able to deal with losing so much family yesterday," she added.

The authorities have reportedly stated that there was likely "no way" for the parishioners to escape the attack.

"He (Kelley) just walked down the center aisle, turned around and my understanding was shooting on his way back out. It's unbelievable to see children, men and women, laying there. Defenseless people," said Tackitt.

Kelley, 26, was only stopped when he was confronted by Stephen Willeford, 55, who shot him through a gap in his body armor as the gunman tried to leave the church. The suspect fled in his car, but lost control of the vehicle and was later found dead inside, according to Daily Mail.

It later emerged that the gunman was a U.S. Air Force veteran and former Bible studies teacher. He was previously married to Danielle Shields, who was previously a teacher at First Baptist Church.

Kelly had worked in logistics and supply in the Air Force, but he was dishonorably discharged in 2014 for assaulting his wife and kid.

Investigators said that Kelley may have been looking for his mother-in-law when he entered the church.

"The suspect's mother-in-law attended this church. She had received threatening texts from him. We can't go into details," Martin said.

Former classmates have noted that the suspects recently started preaching about atheism and picking fights on social media.

Police said that he had a relatively clean criminal record, but they are now looking into the possibility that he was involved in a local militia group.

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