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26 killed in church attack in Texas' deadliest mass shooting

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding at least 16 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history. The dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.

Authorities didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials — one a U.S. official and one in law enforcement — identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.

The U.S. official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and didn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. Investigators were looking at social media posts Kelley made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

In a brief statement, the Pentagon confirmed he had served in the Air Force "at one point." Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said records show that Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge. 

Stefanek said Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on one count of assault on his spouse and another count of assault on their child and discharged two years later. He received a bad conduct discharge, 12 months' confinement and a reduction in rank.

At the news conference, the attacker was described only as a white man in his 20s who was wearing black tactical gear and a ballistic vest when he pulled into a gas station across from the First Baptist Church around 11:20 a.m.

The gunman crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, said Freeman Martin, a regional director of the Texas Department of Safety, then continued firing after entering the white wood-frame building, where an 11 a.m. service was scheduled. As he left, he was confronted by an armed resident who chased him. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line, Martin said.

Several weapons were found inside the vehicle and Martin said it was unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive for the attack.

He said 23 of the dead were found dead in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

Addressing the news conference, Gov. Greg Abbott called the attack the worst mass shooting in Texas history. "There are no words to describe the pure evil that we witnessed in Sutherland Springs today," Abbott said. "Our hearts are heavy at the anguish in this small town, but in time of tragedy, we see the very best of Texas. May God comfort those who've lost a loved one, and may God heal the hurt in our communities."

In Japan, President Donald Trump called the shooting "an act of evil," denounced the violence in "a place of sacred worship" and pledged the full support of the federal government. He said that in a time of grief "Americans will do what we do best: we pull together and join hands and lock arms and through the tears and sadness we stand strong."

Trump ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half-staff to honor those killed in the mass shooting at the Texas church.

Among those killed was the church pastor's 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri, were both out of town in two different states when the attack occurred, Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP.

"We lost our 14 year old daughter today and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us has made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as i can."

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small rural community of a few hundred residents 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI's evidence collection team.

At least 16 wounded were taken to hospitals, hospital officials said, including eight taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center. Another eight victims were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center, located in Floresville about 10 miles from the church, including four who were later transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio for higher-level care, said spokeswoman Megan Posey.

Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone else in the sparsely populated county.

"This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town," Berlanga said. "Everybody's going to be affected and everybody knows someone who's affected."

Regina Rodriguez, who arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting, walked up to the police barricade and hugged a person she was with. She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn't been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.

Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, wasn't at Sunday's service, but he said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, was among the dead.

"We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday," he said, shaking his head. "This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men's Bible study, vacation Bible school. Somebody went in and started shooting."

"We're shocked. Shocked and dismayed," said state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs, a rural community known for its peanut festival, which was held last month. "It's especially shocking when it's such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving."

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In a video of its Oct. 8 service, a congregant who spoke and read Scripture pointed to the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting a week earlier as evidence of the "wicked nature" of man. That shooting left 58 dead and more than 500 injured.


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Lincoln couple working to open distillery, law offices

Brad and Stacey Sipp can pinpoint the exact moment they decided they wanted to open a craft distillery in downtown Lincoln.

The couple had stopped at Pinckney Bend Distillery in New Haven, Missouri, and hit it off with the people there while sipping craft cocktails. When they got in their car to leave, Brad looked over at Stacey, and Stacey looked over at Brad.

"We were, like, let's do this," said Brad, a local attorney with a focus on criminal and family law.

With that, the idea of Freestyle Craft Distilling Company was born.

In a couple weeks, they'll start converting 217 S. Ninth St., a building in the middle of the block between Iasan & Sebastian Studio Salon and El Charro, into a tasting room with a still in the back and gallery space in the front on the first floor and six law offices on the second floor.

Thursday, light poured through the windows of the already framed, upstairs space where Brad will move his office and have space for five other attorneys.

But it's what will be on the main floor that has the couple most excited.

They've been visiting distillers around the country to get tips, going to workshops and doing their homework about what works and what doesn't.

They're buying a high-tech still from Poland and will distill vodka, gin, moonshine, rum and whiskey to be served in the tasting room and available off-sale. They'll start with a blended whiskey until they can age their own.

"We just want to make something that's really easy to drink," said Brad, a self-described gin fanatic.

The distillery is expected to be Lincoln's first in modern times, and one of only a handful in the state.

Stacey said they'll use Nebraska corn to make their liquors. They like the idea of local.

She's been collecting mid-century modern furniture, gold mirrors and cool light fixtures for an eclectic, bohemian vibe.

"It's a place to go and put your feet up; it's a place to chill," she said.

It will be a grown-up place to drink, Stacey said.

Brad said it won't have a bar vibe. They're looking to attract the 30-to-60-age set, who can come in, take a tour and have a drink before heading to dinner.

In time, they hope to expand from hours on Fridays and Saturdays and to add a speakeasy downstairs.

For the past 20 years, the space has been almost a black hole in the middle of the block, used as a storage space by the previous owner.

"Some people might just see this as a house of horrors," Brad said, standing beside Stacey in a shell of a room, the brick walls exposed and floor unfinished. "But this truly is our dream."

He said they'll keep plugging away on nights and weekends until it's done.

They hope to open next spring.


Report: Commerce head has stake in firm tied to Putin orbit

NEW YORK — Newly leaked documents show that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration's point man on trade and manufacturing policy, has a stake in a company that does business with a gas producer partly owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to records obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Ross is an investor in Navigator Holdings, a shipping giant that counts Russian gas and petrochemical producer Sibur among its major customers. Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov once owned more than 20 percent of the company, but now holds a much smaller stake.

Commerce Department spokesman James Rockas said Ross "never met" Shamalov and has generally supported the Trump administration's sanctions against Russia, according to the ICIJ report. Rockas added that Ross has withdrawn from matters related to transoceanic shipping vessels and has met the "highest ethical standards."

The details are likely to add to the questions about ties between Russia and the Trump administration, connections that for months have shadowed the White House and are a focus of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Yet it wasn't immediately clear how many partners Ross might have or what the profit-sharing agreement might be.

ICIJ disclosed the Ross holding as part of reporting on 13.4 million records of offshore entities in tax havens leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper then shared the records with ICIJ and a network of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries. The New York Times is its U.S. partner in this inquiry.

The Times reported on the Ross holding on Sunday.

It wasn't immediately clear exactly how much of Navigator, which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, Ross personally owns. ICIJ reported that Ross and other investors own four Cayman Island entities that in turn own 31.5 percent of Navigator, a stake worth $176 million at Friday's closing stock price.

Ross' stake in Navigator is likely a small fraction of that. In financial disclosure forms he filed with the government this year, Ross valued his holdings in the Cayman Island entities, which include other companies besides Navigator, at no more than $10.1 million.

Sibur contributed 8 percent to Navigator's revenue last year, according to reports filed with securities regulators. Russia's energy sector is largely controlled by individuals with ties to state actors, including Putin.

Much of the new trove of files includes bank statements, emails and loan agreements from Appleby, a law firm that helps set up offshore dummy companies and trusts. Appleby told the ICIJ that there is "no evidence" that it has done anything wrong.

Other records came from Asiaciti Trust, a family-run offshore specialist based In Singapore, and from 19 corporate registries maintained by governments in jurisdictions that draw the wealthy seeking privacy.

Big investments in two U.S. tech companies from a Russian government bank and Russian energy giant have also come to light.

The ICIJ reported that Silicon Valley investor and Russian citizen Yuri Milner got $191 million from VTB Bank, and invested that money in Twitter. The leaked records also show that a financial subsidiary of Russian energy company Gazprom funded a shell company that invested in a Milner-affiliated company that held roughly $1 billion in Facebook shares shortly before its 2012 initial public offering.

Milner told the ICIJ that he was unaware of any involvement by the Gazprom subsidiary in any of his deals and that none of his investments has been related to politics.

Milner has also invested in a tech-savvy real estate fund that was co-founded by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner called Cadre. Milner told the ICIJ that he used his own money for the investment.

Sunday's revelations follow last year's release of records from a Panama-based firm involved in setting up offshore accounts. That disclosure triggered investigations in several countries, the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and ouster of the leader of Pakistan. The Panama Papers also revealed that close associates of Russia's leader Putin had been using the dummy accounts abroad to store their wealth, including a close Putin friend who had $2 billion of offshore assets.

There are legitimate reasons for setting up offshore accounts, but lax regulation and anonymity in some jurisdictions make it easy to launder money, evade taxes and avoid regulatory scrutiny. Critics of the widening gap between the super-wealthy and the rest have seized upon the use of tax havens as revealed in the Panama Papers as evidence of a crisis, and governments have promised to crack down.

In the case of Ross, the ICIJ reported Navigator's Russian customer, Sibur, has ties to Putin in addition to his son-in-law.

A big shareholder is Gennady Timchenko, who was targeted by the U.S. and other Western nations for sanctions after Russia's invasion of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014. A few months later, the U.S. barred banks from providing long-term financing to a gas company belonging to another large Sibur shareholder, Leonid Mikhelson. Mikhelson has also been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for propping up Putin's rule.

Sibur itself was not targeted by the U.S. sanctions, but the Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Scotland reportedly backed away from doing business with the company.

The Russian gas producer last year contributed $23 million to Navigator's revenue, an increase of more than 40 percent in two years.