Congregations in this deeply religious community near Houston gathered Sunday for their first services since a gunman blasted his way into a high school and killed 10 people, with one pastor lamenting the grief “that none of us can comprehend.”
Just two days after the deaths of eight students and two substitute teachers, the pastor of the Dayspring Church acknowledged the pain racking Santa Fe, a town of 13,000.
“They will never be forgotten in this community, these young people, children just going to school,” said Brad Drake, who then read the names of the dead, including a student who attended services at Dayspring.
“We have families today that are grieving a grief that none of us can comprehend.”
The family of the student, Angelique Ramirez, was not at the service. She was a member of the church's youth ministry, Drake said.
In a nearby church kitchen, parishioners prepared plates of barbecue to be sold after the service, with all proceeds going to victims' families.
At Arcadia First Baptist Church, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hugged parishioners as they arrived. Among them was Monica Bracknell, an 18-year-old senior who survived the shooting. She stopped to tell the governor that the attack should not be turned into a political battle over gun control.
Surrounded by television cameras, photographers and reporters, she told Abbott guns were not to blame.
“People are making this into a political issue,” she said she told him. “This is not a political issue. It's not a gun law issue.”
Also Sunday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called for a “hardening” of the nation's school buildings after Friday's attack.
Patrick, a Republican, blamed a “culture of violence” and said more needs to be done to keep shooters away from students, such as restricting school entrances and arming teachers.
“When you're facing someone who's an active shooter, the best way to take that shooter down is with a gun. But even better than that is four to five guns to one,” he said on CNN's “State of the Union.”
On ABC's “The Week,” Patrick said he supports background checks for gun purchasers but emphasized that “gun regulation starts at home.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of members of Houston's Muslim community attended the first funeral, a service for Sabika Sheikh, a 17-year-old exchange student from Pakistan who talked about one day becoming a diplomat.
Her host mother, Joleen Cogburn, recalled asking Sheikh why she came to study in the U.S. She said she wanted to learn American culture and to share Pakistani culture with Americans.
“And I want us to come together and unite,” she told Cogburn. “I don't know if they know us the way they should.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Sheikh continues to be a diplomat “because even in her death, she is pulling the relationships between Pakistan and the United States, specifically the Houston area, even closer.” Her body was to be returned to Karachi.
The suspect, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, also 17, has been jailed on capital murder charges.
In its first statement since the massacre, Pagourtzis' family said Saturday that the bloodshed “seems incompatible with the boy we love.”
The suspect's attorney, Nicholas Poehl, said he was investigating whether his client endured any “teacher on student” bullying after reading reports of Pagourtzis being mistreated by football coaches.
In an online statement, the school district said it investigated the accusations and “confirmed that these reports were untrue.”