'Evil did not win': Sutherland Springs community recounts tragedy ahead of anniversary

Pastor Frank Pomeroy, wife Sherry lost daughter in Nov. 5 mass shooting

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas – Pastor Frank Pomeroy was in Oklahoma City when he got the call: There was a mass shooting inside his church.

Pomeroy jumped into his car and headed south, knowing his daughter was in one of the pews that morning and his wife was headed that way. He called it the longest 12 hours of his life, and even a year after the deadly shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Pomeroy admits most of that day and the days after were a blur.

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“I tell people the first two to three weeks, to be quite honest with you, I don't really remember a whole lot," Pomeroy said. "I know that I functioned. I know that I did what I needed to do, but my focus was just trying to keep people’s heads above water."

Nov. 5 is an anniversary marked with tragedy, tears and ultimately triumph.

“I think there'll be a sense that it'll be a sense of victory for the Lord that we are still standing,” Pomeroy said.

Special Section: Sutherland Springs church shooting 

Pomeroy and his wife Sherri have carried on, despite a moment of immense tragedy.

More than two dozen members of their church family were gunned during Sunday morning worship, including their daughter, Annabelle, whom they adopted at the age of 2.

“She was our baby girl,” Sherri Pomeroy said.

“She was a hugger, she loved everybody, and the first thing she would do is run to you, and you had to brace your legs, because she was going to hug you, fiercely,” Frank Pomeroy said.

Remembering the victims

Annabelle Pomeroy’s seat is still marked in the First Baptist Church's old sanctuary, which is now a memorial. A makeshift sanctuary inside a trailer is where the Pomeroys will mark one year, as the congregation waits for their new church building to be completed.

“Hopefully we don't have a lot of time for tears, we're going to have to focus on the good,” Sherri Pomeroy said.

Sherri Pomeroy believes the anniversary of the shooting will be bittersweet. 

“The community has come back a lot stronger, and in so doing, for myself, I tend to live for the day more than I did before. I've always preached that you can't change tomorrow, and tomorrow, I mean yesterday, and tomorrow is not a sure thing, but you can live for the now, but I truly grasp it,” Frank Pomeroy said.

“A week before, it was just a little church out in the woods. We came back and saw it as a battlefield, and now we're seeing it come around full circle, as a light to the world,” Sherri Pomeroy said.

The walls of the new sanctuary have gone up in Sutherland Springs, casting a shadow on the 26 crosses that signify the people who were lost.

It has been a year of change and challenges for the small town, including for the Pomeroys, who on an almost weekly basis find themselves almost re-victimized by people who insist the Sutherland Springs shooting never happened and that their daughter Annabelle never existed.

“He was screaming, yes, hollering at me to produce birth certificates and death certificates and that she never existed, and he called me a traitor to the country, all kinds of stuff. It was ridiculous,” Frank Pomeroy said of conspiracy theorists.

The Pomeroy’s and other members of the community have filed police reports, and at least two arrests were made, but the harassment of survivors continues. It's latest obstacle in moving past what happened in Sutherland Springs, but the Pomeroy’s said they must move past that tragic day.

The church is still growing, and the South Texas community has rallied around the small town. Ss the brick walls of the new building rise next to the crosses and faded pictures, a pastor and his wife sense rebirth.

“When you look at the building there, (what) it says to me is, still, God’s blessing, that those 26 who passed away, their blood is not in vain, because there's revival,” Frank Pomeroy said.

“Evil did not win. If we let evil win, if we let fear take over, If we let sadness take over, then all of the lives, the 26 that we lost, are in vain," Sherri Pomeroy said. "If we let love win instead of evil, then their lives had a purpose."

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