SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — For a few moments inside the new First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs everything stopped.
One by one the names of 26 victims were read out loud as a bell tolled. It’s the first time the bells were ringing since the mass shooting 18-months ago.
“We are left here to tell the story of God‘s grace and mercy,” said survivor Julie Workman, “and his hand of protection that went on that day.”
Workman was sitting in the second row when the gunman started spraying bullets. She’s a nurse and said she immediately started helping those hurt including her own son.
“The main thing that has kept my core is that the devil was not going to win,” said Workman standing outside the new sanctuary.
The new church is about three times bigger than the old one. There’s a memorial room right next to the sanctuary and right above, a bell which was restored from the old church.
“Every Sunday morning the kids would run to me… to see who could get me first… who could ring the bell to let Sunday school know that it’s time for church to start,” said Pastor Frank Pomeroy. “Many of the children that ring that bell are no longer with us.”
Pastor Pomeroy’s daughter was among the victims.
He says so much has changed in Sutherland Springs. One of the biggest, security. Surveillance camera’s are mounted inside and outside. The church now also has a safety response team.
“They are going through extensive training monthly sometimes weekly,” explained Pastor Pomeroy. “Just this weekend, de-escalation training.”
Governor Greg Abbott who spoke at the service says the state is working on programs to help places of worship be better prepared.
U.S. Senator John Cornyn tells KXAN that Congress has already taken steps to fix the broken background check system and it’s already saved lives. It’s something survivors say is now part of life here in their small town.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say I’m not in pain. Of course I’m in pain. I have hurts… shot multiple times,” said survivor David Colbath. “Those people’s lives are the reason we have this church today.”
Pastor Pomeroy says it’s not clear what will happen to the old sanctuary, but that decision will be made by the entire congregation. He says donations helped build the new church and included the land next door.