SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TEXAS —
Not far from the First Baptist Church, where a shooting rampage Sunday claimed 26 lives and altered scores of others' futures, scenes of generosity and compassion unfolded on Tuesday.
Jaime Ríos set up a red canopy, under which he offered free tacos, sodas and water he'd brought from his restaurant in San Antonio, about 55 kilometers to the northwest.
"There aren't a lot of [food] choices around here, so I imagined that bringing some food and drinks would be a little help," Ríos said. The unincorporated, rural community of 600 is served by only the church, a gas station and post office.
Ríos brought napolitos – fried prickly pear cactus – and other "pure Mexican food. We have chorizo tacos with eggs, ham and cheese. … People are already liking the nopalitos."
The food was available to anyone on site – primarily the scores of journalists, as well as law enforcement, other visitors and community members.
Donna Watkins aimed to deliver solace. Founder of the Homicide Survivors Support Group, she came from the Gulf Coast city of Corpus Christi, setting up a table laden with teddy bears representing the youngest victims. At least a dozen of those killed were minors, according to the Wilson County sheriff.
"We drove up this morning to be here for anyone in the community – if they've lost someone or just need someone to talk to," said Watkins, 67, who brought her daughter. They came to offer grief counseling and advice.
"We provide services we wish no one had to use," Watkins added. She said she'd started the group 28 years ago, not long after her brother "was beaten to death and left by the highway near Nashville, Tenn."
Former church leader visits
Mark Collins, the former First Baptist associate pastor, arrived to offer solace to the community.
"The darkness came to Sutherland Springs and it took away many lights," Collins said of the people who were killed. He added that he'd visited some of those who were wounded and hospitalized in San Antonio. "We thought that we would encourage them, but they encouraged us."
The show of support "from all over Texas, literally from around the world, has been an incredible experience and gives us hope for humanity," Collins added.
Community members will need continued support, said Mary Beth Fisk, who directs the Ecumenical Center in San Antonio.
"It has been so devastating," she said, noting that "the grieving process is just beginning for these families. They've expressed an overwhelming sadness and continued shock, and they wonder what comes next. They know they have to plan funerals. …"
The Texas Attorney General's Office will help cover funeral expenses, drawing from a crime victim compensation fund, local district attorney Audrey Lewis said.