By Bob Smietana
Danielle Kelley’s husband walked into a Texas church and killed 26 people. Recently, she walked into the same church for something completely different—healing.
Kelley and her two children returned to Sutherland Springs Baptist Church for the first time in June, where she was welcomed with prayer and open arms, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
Among those to greet her was Stephen Willeford, a neighbor and friend of the church, who shot Kelley’s husband and ended the massacre.
“Willeford said if coming to church brings her peace, she should continue to come,” wrote reporter Silvia Foster-Frau, who has covered the church since the shooting last November.
Kelley had attended services at Sutherland Springs Baptist before the shooting. Her mom was a regular member. So were many friends that were killed in the massacre.
“It’s difficult because it’s not the same,” she told the Times-Express. “I’m used to seeing Karla smiling, getting all excited. Or Lou, my grandmother, smiling and holding the babies, saying ‘Oh come on, sit over here, I saved you a spot.’”
Kelley told Foster-Frau of how her husband tied her to their bed on the morning of the massacre. She told the newspaper that she wishes he had killed her instead of attacking the church.
“If I could take everything, all the pain, and hold it on my own I would, so nobody else would hurt. If it was only me that could’ve died and everybody else could’ve been alive, I would’ve gladly taken that,” she told Foster-Frau.
The religion news commentary site Get Religion has praised Foster-Frau’s coverage of the Sutherland Springs shooting—saying she captured the heartbreaking and hopeful moments with care and skill.
“Want to read the best, most insightful coverage of the aftermath of last November’s massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas?” wrote GetReligion contributor Bobby Ross.
“Then you absolutely must follow the byline of San Antonio Express-News journalist Silvia Foster Frau who repeatedly has produced extraordinary journalism on this sad subject.
A local museum recently opened a memorial commemorating the victims of the shooting. The exhibit features framed copies of newspaper accounts of the attack along with items left at a makeshift memorial.
The congregation announced plans earlier this year to build a new church building with help from the North American Mission Board.
Sherri Pomeroy, wife of the pastor of Sutherland Springs Baptist, said the attack on the congregation has changed the way she views other similar tragedies. Pomeroy and her husband, Frank, were away from the church on the day of the shooting. Their teenaged daughter was one of the victims.
“I think of how I didn’t pray enough before because it couldn’t have happened to us,” she said earlier this year at a National Day of Prayer event. “And now we’re on the other side so we’re more aware, more in tune with those things that hurt so many people.”
BOB SMIETANA (@BobSmietana) is senior writer at Facts & Trends.