The gunman dressed in all black “with tactical type gear and he was wearing a ballistic vest” fired from outside the church before entering the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, a rural town of about 700 residents located 35 miles East of San Antonio, according to officials.
A local resident was able to engage the gunman with a rifle. After a brief chase, the suspect was found dead.
“At this time we don’t know if it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by a local resident who engaged in gunfire,” according to Texas Department of Public Safety Regional director Freeman Martin.
Officials have not been able to determine a motive nor have they named the suspect but he has been identified in media reports as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, from a nearby county.
The Pentagon confirmed Kelley was a member of the U.S. military and served at an Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until he was discharged, although his discharge records were not provided, according to reports.
Martin said 23 victims were found dead inside the church, two were found outside and one died at a hospital.
Approximately 20 injured victims have been taken to local hospitals with wounds that range from minor to critical, officials said.
“We are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our state’s history.” Abbott said.
The victims range in age from 5 - 72 years old but it is unclear if that indicates all casualties.
The FBI and other law enforcement officials are at multiple crime scenes, including the church and the suspect’s home. Sheriff Joe Tackitt said the victims have not yet been identified.
Turkey was among the first countries to condemn the attack and offer condolences.
“We strongly condemn this attack and wish Allah’s mercy on those who lost their lives and convey our condolences to the people of the U.S.," said a statement from its foreign ministry.
President Donald Trump, who is in Japan on the first-leg on an Asian tour, called the “horrific shooting" and “act of evil” and said he was in contact with Abbott and applauded police and medical personnel.
“Ultimately they [first-responders] stopped the suspect and rendered immediate life-saving aid to certain victims of the shooting”
A prayer vigil with more than 100 attendees, including Abbott, was held Sunday within sight of the church.
The shooting occurred about a month after a gunman killed 58 victims at a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, and on the eight anniversary of a deadly shooting in 2009 that killed 13 victims in Ft. Hood, Texas, about 150 miles north of Sutherland Springs.