Still in shock, a Texas town starts to bury its dead after church massacre

Hearses carrying the remains of two of the victims arriving at the Sutherland Springs Cemetery in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov 11, 2017.
Hearses carrying the remains of two of the victims arriving at the Sutherland Springs Cemetery in Sutherland Springs, Texas on Nov 11, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TEXAS (NYTIMES) - In a drizzle-shrouded cemetery, this small town in South Texas that endured one of the most horrific mass shootings in US history began on Saturday (Nov 11) to bury its dead.

Mourners gathered on the edge of Sutherland Springs for the funeral of two victims in last Sunday's massacre: Richard Rodriguez, 64, a retired railroad foreman, and Therese Rodriguez, 66, a retired receptionist at the railroad maintenance company where they both had worked.

The married couple was among the 26 parishioners, including children, who were killed by a gunman at First Baptist Church. Convulsing this town of a few hundred people, the mass shooting was the latest of several across the United States.

Residents here are bracing for the many more funerals to come.

"This has been a trying day - well, a trying week," Frank Pomeroy, the pastor at First Baptist Church, told the several dozen people gathered on a cemetery hill as he choked back tears.

Pomeroy was visibly shaken - his 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, also died in the shooting.

Several hundred people had attended a memorial service Saturday at Grace Bible Church in the nearby town of La Vernia.

A display of photographs showed the Rodriguezes throughout their lives. Richard, who was born in Fort Collins, Colorado, displayed a scruffy beard and an affection for American flag T-shirts, as well as the music of Carlos Santana and Journey.

Therese, who as a child moved from post-war Germany to the United States with her parents, was remembered as a gregarious traveller, breast cancer survivor and faithful parishioner of her church.

Friends of Therese said that for pastor appreciation day, she was preparing to give a deer killed by her grandson to Pomeroy.

"They left in a perfect way, together, not having to mourn each other," Regina Rodriguez, 33, said at the service about her father and stepmother. "Whenever I was having a hard time, if I felt like I was drowning, they were always there to help me," added Rodriguez, sobbing at times.

People who were gathered for the funeral chatted in Spanish and English, reflecting how the friends and relatives of the couple, like many others in South Texas, mingle Hispanic and Anglo traditions. Children ran around the cemetery while mourners placed flowers on the caskets.

"They were two great people, and they were always really loving," said Melanie Picazo, 24, a cousin of Richard who drove three hours from Eagle Pass on Saturday.

"It's very overwhelming," she said about how Richard and Therese were killed with so many others. "You never think this will happen to you."