This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — It was five years ago that a young man walked into a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and open fired on worshipers. At least 450 rounds were spent, 22 people were left injured, 25 others, including a pregnant woman, were killed. It remains the most deadly mass shooting in Texas’ history.
Fast forward half a decade, and Texas is once again mourning the loss of victims of mass gun violence. This time, in an elementary school in Uvalde, where a young gunman shot and killed 19 students and two teachers with a rifle.
“I drop my kids off at elementary and high school every day and I worry about them being involved in a mass shooting. I worry whether I’ll see them again,” said Jamal Alsaffar, the lead attorney for the Sutherland Springs church shooting case.
While many pieces of evidence in the Sutherland Springs mass shooting were sealed to protect grieving families and spare the public some of the more unbearable images of the aftermath, those are the photos and videos Alsaffar and his team had to sift through to make their case. They’re also images victims of the horrible crime saw play out in real-time.
“I wish no one would be exposed to see what we saw in the Sutherland Springs case, and that is the pictures of the bodies. We had a video as well, which is horrifying, it’s induces nightmares in everyone who’s seen it,” Alsaffar said.
For the victims’ families in these two Texas tragedies, Alsaffar says there are parallels: Having to wait an agonizing amount of time to learn if a loved one was dead, the guilt of praying it’s someone else who will have to deal with this unimaginable loss and being asked for DNA swabs to help identify the bodies of those who are unidentifiable “because of the damage that these guns do to bodies.”
“When we heard the same kind of stories about the parents being dragged to a community center and had to wait for hours, and then the screams that people could hear coming from that center hours later from outside when each individual parent or person was told, ‘I’m sorry, you lost your child’ that played out almost exactly in the same way at Sutherland Springs, those families they had to go through the same horror,” Alsaffar said.
That’s one of the reasons Alsaffar was so disheartened to hear rhetoric surrounding reform after the most recent mass shooting — specifically a comment made by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) who said universal background checks would not have stopped the mass killings we’ve seen in our state. He name dropped Sutherland Springs.
“That is not true. In fact, it’s the opposite of true,” Alsaffar said. “We had a complex, long, multi-month trial where a federal judge specifically found the opposite of what Gov. Abbott said. Based on thousands of pages of evidence and hundreds and hundreds of hours of testimony, [the judge] found conclusively that the background check system not only works, but had it been implemented properly in the Sutherland Springs case, it would have prevented the Sutherland Springs church shooting.”
As someone who has worked for years with the victims of another horrible Texas tragedy, Alsaffar said it’s up to us to not forget what happened, and to continue to support these people whose lives will never be the same.
“I can only tell you that for the survivors who made it through the trauma and the horror of what they had to see and experience, that can only be described as a close combat, war-like situation. And especially those who are children,” he said.