World·CBC in Texas

'What age are we living in, where you can't even enjoy a Sunday morning worship in safety?'

Residents are beginning to process the scale of the grief and the shooting that left 26 people dead Sunday, Briar Stewart reports from Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Locals face the enormity of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs

Police move flowers placed at a barricade near the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six people were shot dead as they attended a church service in the small community on Sunday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In a Texas community of only a few hundred people, the crossroads of Highway 87 and Farm Road 539 would be considered the main drag in Sutherland Springs.

There is a post office, two gas stations and a road leading past a few small homes to a church that's been part of the community for decades, but which is now the site of a horrific crime scene.

Johnnie Langendorff stands with his mother beside the truck he was driving on Sunday as he chased after the shooter. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Beyond yellow tape, FBI agents walk shoulder to shoulder near the First Baptist Church looking for bullet casings and waving metal detectors through the long strands of parched grass.

On the other side of a roadblock stands a horde of journalists who have descended on Sutherland Springs to document the mass shooting, and the residents who live here and are grappling with it.

'We just wanted to get this guy off the road'

"I don't really have time right now for it to all sink in," said Johnnie Langendorff, a 27-year-old who has been hailed as a hero during the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

He and another, armed resident chased the shooter as he fled the scene in his vehicle. Langendorff was behind the wheel of his Dodge pickup truck speeding at what he estimated to be 95 miles an hour, or more than 150 km/h.

A sign greets patrons entering Baldy's diner in La Vernia, Texas, a community just outside Sutherland Springs. (Briar Stewart)

"I didn't know that he had so many other weapons but that wasn't a thought. We just wanted to get this guy off the road."

The shooter, Devin Kelley, eventually crashed his vehicle and was found with three gunshot wounds — two from when he had been shot by Langendorff's passenger, and a third self-inflicted shot to the head.

Raw emotions

Langendorff's quick thinking has been plastered all over the news during the past 36 hours, and he has been running from one interview to another. He's been asked so many times about what happened that he hasn't had time to process it himself.

For others, who haven't been running on adrenalin, the emotions are raw and all-consuming. 

Ciro Harrison is from La Vernia, Texas, a small community 10 kilometres northwest of Sutherland Springs. He came to leave flowers at the memorial. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

"What age are we living in, where you can't even enjoy a Sunday morning worship in safety?" said Ciro Harrison, who came to the roadblock to leave a bouquet of sunflowers at a growing memorial.

Tears welled up behind his glasses as he reflected on how his feelings had evolved since he first heard that a gunman attacked a church congregation.

'Is nothing sacred anymore?'

"I guess denial was the first thing," he said. "Is nothing sacred anymore?"

Down the highway from the church, Lupe Urdiales and her husband, Domingo, stood in a gas station parking lot, handing out wooden boards with Bible verses painted on them.

They attend a church in San Antonio, but a friend of theirs was at First Baptist on Sunday and was shot three times. He is still in hospital.

Lupe and Domingo Urdiales attend a church in San Antonio, but their friend was at the First Baptist Church on Sunday and was shot three times. He is still in hospital. (Briar Stewart)

Domingo Urdiales, a carpenter, made a stack of the painted boards with leftover lumber. He and his wife loaded them into the back of his pickup truck to bring to Sutherland Springs.

"I think that if we put our faith and love and trust together, we can focus on being there for each other," she said.

'The way it is everywhere now'

While they see the shooting as senseless and tragic, they aren't completely shocked by it.

They attend a different church in nearby San Antonio, where he does the security. During each Wednesday and Sunday service, he studies people as they come in and looks to see what they're wearing and what they're carrying.

Together he and his wife say they are constantly looking for escape routes whenever they enter a building.

"We always try to find ways of getting out of the church, in and out, and where we should sit," Lupe Urdiales said.

They say they take the potential for a sudden shooting seriously, whether they are at a Sunday service or out for a meal at a restaurant.

"That is the way it is everywhere now."