One week after 26 people were killed by a gunman inside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the place of worship opened its doors as a memorial site.
The pews have been removed from the sanctuary and the room is freshly painted white. The names of each victim are engraved on 26 white chairs, with a red rose pinned to each, except one.
A pink rose was attached to one to represent the unborn child of Crystal Holcombe. She was two months pregnant when the shooting unfolded.
As visitors entered the sanctuary Sunday evening, recordings of the victim’s voices played in the background. Some of them were praying, others reading scripture.
A giant, wooden cross was erected on the church’s altar, along with a scripture that was set to be read on the morning on Nov 5. when the massacre took place — Psalm 100.
After Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire inside the church with a semiautomatic rifle, killing 26, and wounding 20 others, church services will no longer be held in the building, reports said. Kelley later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his car while fleeing from two good Samaritans who chased him in a truck and onto a local highway following the shooting.
Hours before the memorial was opened to the public, hundreds gathered in a massive, white tent for the first Sunday morning service since the shooting. Congregants were then invited to visit the memorial.
“Everyone who walks in there will know that the people who died lived for their Lord and Savior,” Frank Pomeroy, the church’s pastor, said at the emotional service.
Pomeroy spoke of his 14-year-old daughter and friends who died as he held back tears.
"I know everyone who gave their life that day," Pomeroy said. "Some of whom were my best friends and my daughter. I guarantee they are dancing with Jesus today."
The gathering was reportedly the largest in the church’s history.
The First Baptist Church will be open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. for visitors to view the memorial.