Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
In moments of terror, the killer in black mowed down 26 victims in and near the small white church off Old Highway 87. The victims behind the church’s red door were as young as 5 years old.
And then the killing at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs stopped.
A neighbor had found his own rifle and opened fire on the killer. Devin Kelley, the 26-year-old man identified as the gunman, dropped his weapon and fled. And at least one local resident, if not more, followed in pursuit. Kelley was later found dead with his massacre cut short by a local hero.
Evil knows no geography. A mass murderer can take over two dozen lives in fifteen seconds. The worst humanity is capable of can appear in a tiny town of a few hundred. And another man can save a dozen more lives in even less time. And the best humanity is capable of can also come to life in that tiny town.
Sutherland Springs, a town hastily named when the post office came calling, is a reminder that the great dramas of human life don’t just happen in big cities where millions of people swarm the streets. They can happen in the smallest and the most overlooked places in the heat of a lazy Sunday morning.
History appeared to have passed Sutherland Springs by since its days as a resort town. But there is no place so forgotten that it cannot serve as the stage for a confrontation between good and evil.
Devin Kelley, the monster in black who came through that red door, had been court martialed by the Air Force for domestic violence. The man who had abused his wife and child thought he would show the world how tough he was by gunning down unarmed women and children. But once a few shots were fired in his direction, Kelley turned and ran. Mass shooters aren’t courageous, they’re cowards.
There is a reason that they choose targets that they expect will be unarmed and unable to fight back. Devin Kelley had spent a little time in the Air Force. And had then been locked away for a year for attacking his family. At First Baptist, Kelley thought he had his perfect target. He murdered children and the elderly. But when the gun swung his way, he fled and didn’t stop until he could go no more.
After this latest massacre, the discussion will inevitably turn to gun control. But it isn’t guns that need controlling. People either control their worst selves. Or they don’t. The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs shootings showed us that in the brutal collision between two men.
Some men shoot the innocent. Others risk their lives to stop them.
President Trump called the murders an “act of evil”. Acts of evil are all around us. As are acts of goodness.
After the shooting, Obama took a break from pushing ObamaCare to tweet, “May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.” His prayer was that whatever higher power he believes in convince us to accept his agenda.
Obama had directed “weaponry” to everyone from Mexican cartels to Muslim Brotherhood terrorists. But in his mind, violence is inextricably linked to weaponry. And yet both Kelley and the man who stopped him had wielded weapons. It wasn’t the outward appearance of the weapons that distinguished them. It didn’t matter whether we called one of those weapons an ‘assault rifle’.
What truly mattered were the characters of the two men wielding the weapons.
The massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and how it ended remind us that the stakes may be different, but that the choices are still the same, whether it’s in the white clapboard church of a town of a few hundred or among the granite palaces of Washington D.C.
No government solution would have stopped a spree killer in a town of a few hundred. Those who confronted Kelley understood that the solution lay not with some faceless bureaucracy, but with themselves. The sizes of big cities can cloud this simple truth while small towns reveal it in its starkest simplicity. When bad things happen, either our neighbors step up and stand by us. Or they don’t.
Government solutions poison us with the moral laziness that left Kitty Genovese to die slowly and painfully in the shadow of a New York City building. Kitty’s killer told police that he targeted women because “they were easier and didn’t fight back”. That was probably how Kelley also thought.
But none of her neighbors fought back either. In Sutherland Springs, they fought back.
In the days to come, we will doubtless learn of other acts of heroism that took place that Sunday. And even as we contemplate the bloody scene past First Baptist’s red door, we can take comfort from knowing that those scenes of heroism are not unusual at mass shootings. When evil strikes, there are those who try to confront the killer or guide the victims to safety. Sometimes their actions are futile, but their heroism is not. Doing the right thing is never futile. As evil inspires evil, heroism inspires heroism.
Mass murderers study each other’s crimes. We know that some of the mass shooters of the last decade wanted to improve on each other’s tolls. Even now there is a future killer somewhere studying the Vegas shootings and wondering how he can improve on them. But there are also future heroes.
Death is both terrible and inevitable. We all die. It is how we live our lives that truly matters.
We often remember killers. But we take much less time to remember those who take a stand against them.
Daniel Lewin, a tech genius, was the first person to die on September 11 after he confronted the hijackers. Earlier this year, Robert Engle, a church usher, tackled a Sudanese church bodybuilder who had opened fire in a Nashville church. Then he got his own gun and held the killer at gunpoint.
There are heroes all around us. And when they are armed, they can truly make a difference.
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