With President Donald Trump in the midst of his tour of Asia, Vice President Mike Pence stepped into the role of consoler-in-chief on Wednesday with a visit to Sutherland Springs, Texas, where a gunman opened fire Sunday at First Baptist Church, killing 26, according to police, who have included an unborn child in the death count. Twenty other people were injured, ten of them critically.
“We come together as one nation and one people: to support our fellow Americans in their hour of need," Pence said in remarks to a prayer vigil at Floresville High School Wednesday night. "Faith is stronger than evil. No attack, no act of violence will ever make our spirit or diminish the faith of the American people,”
In offering condolences on behalf of the nation and expressing solidarity with the members of the community, Pence spoke not only as a vice president but as a man of faith.
“Faith tells us we overcome evil with good," he said. "So this weekend, I hope a lot of Americans do what we're doing here tonight. I hope the places of worship all across America will be filled to overflowing. I hope that Americans of every background and belief will send a chorus of prayers from their hearts into the heart of heaven for these families, for this community."
Just prior to the prayer vigil, Pence met with family members of the victims, offering hugs and listening as many told him and second lady Karen Pence about the loved ones they lost.
During his visit to Sutherland Springs, Pence also visited the site of the shooting rampage, where he was briefed by law enforcement, and delivered a message on President Trump’s behalf as he addressed cameras.
“President Trump asked us to be here to say to the members of First Baptist Church and to Sutherland Springs, we are with you, the American people are with you and as the president said on Sunday, halfway across the world, we will never leave your side,” Pence said, standing in front of First Baptist Church.
Declaring that “this evil must come to an end in this land,” the vice president offered the full commitment of the federal government in and expressed resolve to get to the bottom of how the assailant was able to obtain a firearm in the first place -- blaming “bureaucratic failures” in part.
“We now know it was a crime that the assailant was ever able to purchase a firearm in the first place, he lied on his application, had a history of mental illness, and there were bureaucratic failures,” Pence said. “I'm informed by Secretary Heather Wilson that the Air Force is moving aggressively and that review will be completed in days, not weeks. I can also report that the Department of Defense is conducting a review of its own to ensure that the national crime information center has the most up to date information on each branch of the armed forces.”
The vice president was joined by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who expressed his admiration for the people of his state now reeling from yet another tragic event so soon after Hurricane Harvey also brought tragedy to Texas’ doorstep.
“We're showing just as we did in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, when Texas faces a tragedy, Texans come together and respond profoundly and I'm very, very proud of our fellow Texans,” Abbott said.
The delegation also visited a hospital where some of the injured are still recovering. Abbott, who is wheelchair-bound, remarked on one particularly meaningful conversation he had with a mother whose son was injured in the same spot on his body where Abbott was.
“We had the privilege of meeting with some of the victims at the hospital moments ago, one of whom was shot in the back and was injured in his vertebrae, spinal cord exactly where I was injured. His mom and I shared hugs and talked about the future, I said you know one day he may grow up to be governor,” Abbott said.