An Alvarado business on Wednesday helped surviving family members of the Nov. 5 shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs lay their loved ones to rest.
Arrdeen Vaughan of Vaughan Specialty Automobiles said it’s not often eight hearses are needed in a funeral procession line, but when he found out the family was having trouble finding that many he offered to help.
“I just knew they were going to need it,” he said. “There is nobody around anywhere that has eight hearses other than us.”
Vaughan sent eight hearses to Sutherland Springs, along with a driver for each car to transport the victims to a cemetery near the site of the massacre.
“I went down the night before, but all of our drivers left about 3 in the morning,” he said. “I’ve been doing this since 1962, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I’ve never seen so many people turn up for something in my life.”
During the service, more than 3,000 people surrounded the caskets and released light pink and blue balloons at a graveside service for the victims — Crystal Holcombe, 36, and three of her children, Greg Hill, 13, Emily Hill, 11, and Megan Hill, 9; 60-year-old Bryan and Karla Holcombe, 58; and Marc Holcombe, 36, and his 18-month-old daughter, Noah.
Vaughan said there were many others who stepped in to help the family out.
“I couldn’t figure out how they were going to come up with eight lowering devices, but they did,” he said. “I heard somebody paid for the caskets — they had everything taken care of.”
Lydia Moon was one of the drivers from Alvarado who went to Sutherland Springs that day.
“It was a bit overwhelming to see the outpour of love coming from the community,” she said. “When driving back through Sutherland Springs, seeing the church and the memorial that has been set up just makes me thank Jesus for my family because it can all be changed in a minute. It was an honor to be allowed to assist in the funeral.”
Church member and survivor John Holcombe invited the public to attend the funerals.
“There really were so many people there,” Vaughan said. “All of the caskets were closed, but people just waited in line to sign the register books.”
Vaughan said he also was able to see the inside of First Baptist Church.
“They’ve taken all of the pews and the carpet out and have repainted everything,” he said. “And they had a chair sitting where each person killed was sitting during the shooting with a rose in each chair. I’ll never forget it.”
On Nov. 5 the gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, began firing into First Baptist Church as Bryan Holcombe, an assistant pastor, ascended to the pulpit.
Walking up and down the center aisle, Kelley killed 25 people at the church, including crying babies at point-blank range, according to witness accounts. Authorities have put the official toll at 26, because one victim was pregnant.
After his rampage, Kelley fled in a vehicle parked near the church, pursued by a barefoot observer with an AR assault rifle and another man in a pick-up.
The man with the rifle shot and struck Kelley, but authorities say the gunman died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Investigators have said the attack appeared to stem from a domestic dispute Kelley was having with his mother-in-law, a member of the church who wasn’t present that day. However, among the victims was Lula White, his wife’s 71-year-old grandmother.
Kelley had a history of domestic violence. He was given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force after pleading guilty to assaulting his first wife and stepson.
In addition to those killed, another 20 people were injured during the shooting.
Eight survivors remained hospitalized Wednesday at two San Antonio-area hospitals, their conditions ranging from good to critical.