WHITE SETTLEMENT, Texas (KXAN) — Three people have died, including a suspect after a shooting at a church in White Settlement, near Fort Worth.
And law enforcement says it was thanks to two parishioners that more weren’t killed.
Police said the shooter was Keith Thomas Kinnunen, 43, according to NBC News. He had a criminal record in Tarrant County, which included charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in 2009 and theft of property in 2013. Law enforcement, including the Texas Rangers, searched Kinnunen’s home after the shooting.
Officials said in a press conference Sunday that a gunman went inside the West Freeway Church of Christ around noon and sat down with parishioners. According to preliminary reports, he then got up, took out a shotgun and opened fire.
Two parishioners then returned fire toward the suspect, killing him.
“The threat has stopped thanks to the heroic actions by those parishioners at the church,” said White Settlement Police Chief J.P. Bevering. “I want to ask for your prayers and support for everybody in the church.”
Both parishioners died at a local hospital.
The shooter does reportedly have roots in the area, but officials said he was a transient. They also said he had past contact with law enforcement.
The Texas Rangers will lead the investigation.
Learn about the history of shootings in Texas with a KXAN investigation of the state’s mass violence over four decades. Read more here: A History of Mass Violence.
What we know
The service that was interrupted by the attack was being streamed live online, according to KXAN’s sister station KXAS.
Officials confirmed they were looking at all available media to help with the investigation.
An elder at the church told the New York Times that one of those killed was a security guard who responded to the shooter, calling him a dear friend.
“He was trying to do what he needed to do to protect the rest of us,” said the elder, Mike Tinius.
“It’s extremely upsetting to see anyone committing violence,” he added.
Tinius said he didn’t know the gunman and that the shooting appeared to be random.
All the victims are male.
1980 marked the beginning of four decades of near-consistent mass shootings in Texas. KXAN investigators have documented the following 32 events in that timeframe with at least three victims, not including any shooters.
Police officers and firefighters were called to assist at the scene on South Las Vegas Trail in White Settlement, about eight miles west of Fort Worth.
Authorities said they are working to determine a motive for the attack.
Watch the full 3 P.M. press conference with law enforcement below:
According to KXAS, one of the victims was identified by his daughter as Anton “Tony” Wallace, 64, who died at the hospital.
What the senior minister said
Britt Farmer, the senior minister of West Freeway Church of Christ spoke at the end of a press conference and thanked Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for their rapid response to the incident and for the professionalism of law enforcement.
Patrick traveled to White Settlement following the tragedy and joined law enforcement officers in their final press conference on Sunday.
“We lost two great men today but it could’ve been a lot worse and I am thankful that our government has allowed to us to protect ourselves,” Farmer said. “We are here to help people but to have something like this happen destroys my heart.”
They will have a church-wide meeting Monday at 6 p.m. and he said he will make a statement at 8 p.m.
“Please continue to pray for the West Freeway Church family,” he added. “Today our home was invaded by evil.”
‘Our hearts go out to the victims’
In a statement, Gov. Greg Abbott said, “Our hearts go out to the victims and families of those killed in the evil act of violence that occurred at the West Freeway Church of Christ.
“Places of worship are meant to be sacred, and I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life.
“Cecilia and I ask all Texans to join us in praying for the White Settlement community and for all those affected by this horrible tragedy.”
In a statement posted on Twitter, the Texas Attorney General’s Office said it is “shocked and saddened” about the incident.
Gun Law Legislation
Texas state Sen. Donna Campbell paved the way to clarify the law, SB 535, allowing guns to be carried in places of worship in the 2019 legislative session. That new law went into effect Sept. 1.
Sutherland Springs is in Sen. Campbell’s Senate district, which is where 26 people were killed when a shooter opened fire inside the First Baptist Church.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joined law enforcement officers as they spoke at a later press conference, and said after that shooting in Sutherland Springs, two laws were passed.
He spoke about Sen. Campbell’s bill and another law that removed all the fees for private institutions to have a security force. “This church had its own security they were well trained,” said Lt. Gov. Patrick. “The heroism today is unparalleled, this team responded quickly and within six seconds it was over.”
“This is going to be something that is studied and watched by law enforcement and private citizens and everyone else who trains security to see how lives can be saved. We are thankful for the heroes who sadly died today.”Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick