Mom of church-shooting victim tells how faith helped her heal

Posted: June 12, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Sherri Pomeroy (right), whose 14-year-old daughter Annabelle died in the Nov. 5 shooting that killed 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, talks with Donna Gaines during an interview Monday at the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. Pomeroy and her husband, Frank, the church’s pastor, were out of town when the shooting occurred.

DALLAS -- Only her faith has allowed Sherri Pomeroy to begin to heal and rebuild her life after her daughter died Nov. 5 in a mass shooting at a Texas church where her husband serves as pastor.

Pomeroy shared her story of tragedy and loss Monday during the Pastors' Wives Conference at the annual Southern Baptist Convention at Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.

She and her husband, Frank, were out of town the day Devin Kelley, 26, walked into First Baptist Church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas, and opened fire. Kelley killed 26 people that day, including the Pomeroys' 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, and wounded 20 others.

The shooting came two months after a September shooting at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tenn., left one dead and seven injured, and two years after a shooting in which nine people -- including the church's pastor -- were shot and killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

"I don't know how anybody goes through any kind of a tragedy without faith," Pomeroy said Monday during an interview with Donna Gaines, the wife of Southern Baptist President Steve Gaines. "I don't know where I would be today without faith.

"During the first few months ... after the tragedy I didn't know how to pray."

Gaines recounted meeting Pomeroy for the first time in November. She recalled how moved she was when she began to realize how connected First Baptist Church members were as Pomeroy scrolled through the list of contacts in her cellphone, pausing to tell the story of each member who had been killed.

"We were intertwined as a family," Pomeroy said, noting that it was common for church members to attend baseball games, graduations and other events together. "We weren't just acquaintances, we were family. We ate together, we played together, we spent time together away from church."

Pomeroy said she received cards and letters from millions, but that she wasn't too hard on herself about not praying as she went through the motions of her daily activities.

"Many of you were praying for me when I didn't even know how to pray," Pomeroy said.

Now, seven months after the shooting, the congregation is doing its best to heal and move forward. This year the church will hold its first vacation Bible school in honor of Karla Holcombe, one of Pomeroy's best friends, who died in the shooting. Holcombe had led the weeklong series of classes and activities for years.

"We're going to do it in her honor, even though we're not as crafty as Karla," Pomeroy said. "It might not be as pretty this year, but we have people stepping up everywhere, and we're going to do that in her honor even though it's going to be rough."

It wasn't until 17 people were killed in a mass shooting in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that Pomeroy better understood the distance with which people can view mass shootings and other tragedies.

"We see it from afar and, yes, we grieve with [the victims and their families], but I personally realized that I didn't get involved in it, that I didn't pray enough," Pomeroy said. "I went on with my daily life, and many of us do, if you're not right there in it.

"But I've learned to let God speak to me, listen more and do the things that God calls me to do instead of just staying back in the shadows. To step up and do what God is calling me to do -- be that hand, or be that phone call or that letter -- [and] do the things God is calling me to do instead of just thinking about them."

Metro on 06/12/2018