First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs opens doors for first time since shooting

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist , Garrett Brnger - Reporter

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas - Twenty-six white chairs were placed in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs -- each chair commemorating lives lost in a mass shooting last Sunday.

Red roses adorned the chairs, with a pink rose for "Baby Holcombe."

“It’s an amazing feeling going in there. I didn't know what to expect. But it’s beautiful,” Carolina Gamboa said.

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs invited members of the media to tour the sanctuary for the first time since last week's mass shooting.

To learn more about each victim, click here.

On Saturday, church leaders said volunteer efforts from community members of varying fields of expertise allowed them to transform the site of the deadly shooting into "a beautiful memorial that celebrates and pays tribute to the lives that were lost."

The Gamboas, Benny and Carolina, brought their children to see the memorial.

“When I sit in church with my family it doesn't’t, I don’t, it never crosses my mind that we would all be gone - just like that,” Carolina Gamboa said.

Benny Gamboa said he wanted his children to understand what happened.

“They got to see what’s really going on out there,” he said. “You know, it’s not a fairy tale anymore. This is life.”

The church and surrounding areas were taped off as a crime scene for days. As soon as authorities allowed access to the church, a construction team went to work.

Complete coverage of the Texas Church Shooting

Volunteers worked around the clock to remove chairs, pews and equipment from the sanctuary. The walls of the sanctuary were painted white. Windows and ceiling tiles were replaced and carpet was removed so the floor could also be painted white.

As for what will comes of the churches future, that is anyone's guess.

"Some don’t want to step foot in this building again, and others said ‘I need to,’" Associate Pastor Mark Collins said. "So how do we accommodate that?"

The church said the following people donated their time and services to the memorial:

Brad Beldon - Beldon donated 26 red roses and 26 hand-crafted white chairs that commemorate all 26 people killed in the mass shooting.

Jeanne Buchhorn - Buchhorn is an artist who helped create the memorial.

Jerry and Kevin Willingham - Jerry and Kevin are with J&K Painting. They assisted in painting the memorial.

Mark A. Westbrook, Wes Taylor and Arno Grim - The three are with C4 General Contractor LLC.

Steve Mayor - Mayor is with Continental Adjusters.

On Sunday, a recording of scripture readings from members of the church echoed throughout the all-white memorial.

The victims' names were marked on the hand-crafted chairs in gold paint. The white chairs were placed where the bodies of the 26 members of the church were found after the shooting.

The creators of the memorial included a wooden cross with a crown of thorns at the front of the church and an encased a Bible directly in front of the cross.

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