PHOTOS: Pastor invites community into church memorial after mass shooting

Sanctuary turned into memorial remembering lives lost after mass shooting.
Sanctuary turned into memorial remembering lives lost after mass shooting.

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) – Beyond the black tarp surrounding the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a memorial has been created to remember the lives lost in the mass shooting.

Inside, 26 white chairs with roses are arranged in the sanctuary.  Each chair sits where a member of the congregation was found after the shooting.  The chairs, pews and equipment have all been removed.  Volunteers painted the inside white and placed the chairs after investigators cleared the scene.

“I didn’t expected it to hit me this hard. I was very overwhelmed,” Zeke Casarez said. “I hadn’t even gotten into the church — I was already overwhelmed.”

Casarez has ministered inside the church. “I needed to see this,” he said. “I needed to feel the enormity of it — of what happened here.”

Associate Pastor Mark Collins said Sunday that it was not an easy decision to turn the sanctuary into a memorial, but something needed to be done for the families impacted.

“Of course some don’t want to step foot in this building again, and others said, ‘I need to,’” said Associate Pastor Collins “We wanted to make it where they could come in … mourning their own way those that we have all lost.”

He said the congregation will decide what happens to the church. One plan could include demolishing it. Services next week will be held inside a tent on church grounds.

“Satan got one play, and then he fumbled the football,” Collins said. “We have seen such an outpouring — and salt and light has come to Sutherland Springs like we’ve never seen before.”

He said the church is 100 years old, and it set a record Sunday morning with more than 700 people gathering for services a week after the shooting.

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