Pence meets families of Texas church shooting victims

Vice President Mike Pence hugs Evelyn Holcombe at Florseville High School during a stop, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Floresville, Texas. A man opened fire inside a church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday, killing and wounding many; Holcombe was in the church during the shooting but escaped. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in meeting with the families of victims killed in Sunday’s mass shooting at a South Texas church.

The wives of Pence and Abbott joined the officials in going from table to table at the Floresville High School library to meet with the families of those killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Floresville is the Wilson County seat and the closest town of significant size to Sutherland Springs.

Pence spoke to John Holcombe, whose parents, wife, three of her children, a brother and a niece died Sunday. Holcombe and his wife’s 7-year-old daughter, Evelyn, managed to run out of the church. Holcombe was treated for shrapnel injuries and released from the hospital Monday.

Phillip Holcombe, the eldest of Crystal’s children, was also at the library. His aunt, Torie McCollum, told AP earlier that she worries most about Phillip, known as PJ, because he had already experienced the death of their father, Peter Hill, from congenital heart failure in 2011.

Sessions told members of the Johnson family “the country’s grieving.” The Johnsons are relatives of Lula White, the shooter’s wife’s grandmother who was among the more than two dozen killed in Sunday’s shooting. He told the Johnsons that he had just come from their First Baptist and that he “grew up in a church smaller than that one. Church is family.”

Pence is blaming the Air Force bureaucracy in addition to the gunman for a massacre at a South Texas church that left more than two dozen dead.

Pence spoke at a news conference Wednesday afternoon outside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, where the shootings happened.

He said the gunman lied on his background check application when buying the weapons. He also cited the man’s history of mental illness and bureaucratic failings within the Air Force for the tragedy.

Pence began his trip to Texas Wednesday by visiting Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to meet with victims wounded in the shooting. Then he, his wife and Texas officials met with victims’ families, first responders and two men who pursued the gunman.

Pence said President Donald Trump had authorized a full complement of federal resources to the investigation, including 100 on-site FBI agents.