On Tuesday, Pastor Frank Pomeroy shared an exclusive update with CNN's Anderson Cooper regarding his life and spiritual outlook after his church, Sutherland Springs First Baptist, became the target of the largest church shooting in American history. In spite of the harrowing violence and immense tragedy suffered by Pomeroy and his church family, he says his faith is stronger now than ever: "If I give up on the mission now, that means those 26 died in vain. The whole 15 years I've been a pastor, [God's] been preparing me. This my Super Bowl, if you will. God said, 'OK, let's see where you're at.'"
Pastor Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, were out of state when Devin Kelley entered a Sunday morning church service early in November and opened fire on the congregation, killing 26 church members, including the Pomeroys’ daughter Annabelle. Annabelle was only 14, and Pomeroy says, "she loved deeply. She loved everybody. She had no maliciousness."
In the month that has passed since the shooting, the Pomeroys have attended 12 funerals and lost count of the hours spent visiting church members and families in hospitals and their homes. There have been smiles amid the tears, however, as the Pomeroys have seen the community unite in support of the church, even long-absent church members. Pastor Pomeroy describes the ups and downs of the shooting’s aftermath like a hula hoop with a thorn in it: "Every now and then the thorn sticks you and you'll cry, but you've got to keep hula-hooping and eventually the thorn will wear down some.”
Both Frank and Sherri Pomeroy immediately drove several hours home when they first received news of an active shooter in the church. They arrived home to find their church ripped apart by bullets and soaked in blood.
Sherri Pomeroy shared that she has some moments where she wishes she had been at the church—at her daughter’s side—the day of the shooting. She finds herself wondering if Annabelle cried, or called for “Mama”, or put her fingers in her mouth like she did when she was afraid. Sherri Pomeroy marches on, though, because she has other children and grandchildren. She still has her surviving church family, some of whom are now paralyzed. John Holcombe, who notified Pastor Frank of the shooting, lost his wife and unborn child, his parents, three of his children, a brother and a niece. "Yes, it hurts to lose a child,” Sherri says, “But [other church members have] lost also and they're still standing. How can I not stand with them? We have our moments and we cry. But if you dwell on that instead of dwelling on the positive, that's what tears you apart."
Pastor Frank says he has moments where he wonders if he could have changed the outcome had he been in church that day. He carries a gun and says he and other members were developing a plan for an active shooter at the church a month prior.
While Pomeroy and his church were unable to stop the shooter, their loss has sparked immense interest in church security. Sgt. Mike Gurley, a retired Dallas cop and principal of the security firm Teamworks Consulting Inc., held a seminar on effective, tactical church security. The seminar, which took place in Prestonwood Baptist Church near Plano, drew a crowd of 650 pastors and church leaders. According to Gurley, even licensed firearm carriers in church need specialized training to be prepared for active shooter situations: “To assume they’re going to be effective in an active-shooter situation is comparable to giving me a set of golf clubs and expecting me to win the Masters.” Gurley urged churches to create policies for minimum training and qualifications for any armed members, especially those with law enforcement and military experience. Serving on the church security team requires just a strong calling and “God-given talent.”
As for Pastor Pomeroy, he meditates on Psalm 23 and avoids dwelling on “what-ifs”. “If you sit and you park in those kind of thoughts -- of the ifs and the what-ifs -- I think that we're staying in the valley of the shadow of death," Pomeroy said. "You've got to just get through there and keep on moving."