Pastor Frank Pomeroy unveiled renderings of the new church at a news conference Tuesday evening in nearby San Antonio. The site will include a worship center and a memorial tower featuring a bell from the original First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, which for now will remain standing next to the new church as a memorial to those who died.
Pomeroy, who was out of town the day of the shooting, lost his 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, that Sunday. Wiping away tears, his wife, Sherri, accompanied him Tuesday.
“We are in the midst of a celebration week. This is the week leading up to Easter,” Pomeroy said. “And what better way to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord than the resurrection of a new church?
“I think God choreographed that.”
Pomeroy added his congregation has more than doubled and baptisms have “increased exponentially” since the shooting.
“God is going to use the blood of those 26 martyrs and those survivors to bring forth revival into the land,” Pomeroy said. “Any time the church was persecuted, then God backed that up with a magnification or a multiplication of his people.”
The North American Mission Board, a national Southern Baptist organization, will coordinate development of the new church. Phase 1 of the project, which will include a new worship center, educational center, prayer garden and parking lot, could cost up to $3 million, said Scott Gurosky, president of the design firm behind the project.
Board spokesman Mike Ebert called for donations Tuesday from public and private sources and added, “We’ll cover anything that’s not covered by donation.” The groundbreaking is scheduled for May 5, the six-month anniversary of the shooting. Construction is anticipated to be completed in spring 2019.
Phase 2, the cost of which is not included in the $3 million, will include a community building and could take several more years to complete.
Devin P. Kelley opened fire on the church during Sunday services on Nov. 5, 2017. He killed 25 parishioners, including a pregnant woman whose fetus also died. The Holcombe family lost eight members. The Wards, two daughters and a mother. Peggy Warden died shielding her 18-year-old grandson, Zach Poston. The youngest victim was 18 months old, and the eldest was 77-year-old Dennis “Pa” Johnson. Twenty more were wounded.
The shooting — and subsequent media attention — took a heavy toll on this small community of around 600 people. They turned to their faith, Pomeroy said after the shooting, and to one another.
Kelley, a U.S. Air Force veteran who had threatened violence against his superiors and beaten his child and ex-wife, died minutes after the shooting. He was pursued by two men after the shooting and found dead in a ditch from an apparent gunshot wound to the head.
Kelley’s mother-in-law attended the church and the two had a fraught relationship, although law enforcement has not released the final findings of their investigation.
“Texas Rangers continue their investigation into the Sutherland Springs incident,” Lt. Jason Reyes told The Dallas Morning News earlier this month. “No timetable has been given as to when the investigation will be complete. At this time no further information will be released so that the integrity of the investigation is not jeopardized.”
Several victims’ families have filed formal complaints against the Air Force, which acknowledged failing to report Kelley’s past domestic violence convictions to the FBI’s national database, crimes that would have kept him from legally possessing a firearm.
The mistake instead allowed Kelley — who was court-martialed, jailed and discharged — to easily purchase the rifle he used in the massacre. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, championed a bill the president signed into law Friday to penalize government entities that do not properly report to the database. Cornyn will travel to Sutherland Springs on Friday to discuss the new law.