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Texas church shooting: Daughter of man killed while serving communion 'forgives' gunman

Texas church shooting: Daughter of man killed while serving communion 'forgives' gunman

Tiffany Wallace, daughter of Anton “Tony” Wallace, witnessed her father's murder when a gunman opened fire at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas on Sunday morning, killing three. | KXAS/Screenshot

[UPDATE, Dec. 30, 2019: The gunman has been identified as Keith Thomas Kinnunen, 43.]

The daughter of a godly man who was shot and killed while serving communion at a Texas church said she “forgives” her father’s killer, yet struggles to understand how the “devil” could cause such devastation among her community.

Tiffany Wallace was attending service at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, Sunday morning when a gunman entered the building and fired a weapon. 

The man gunned down Wallace's father, Anton “Tony” Wallace, a deacon at the church, and another parishioner before two church members, who were members of the parish's security team, returned fire and killed the shooter.

Wallace told NBC News that her 64-year-old father was serving communion at the time of the shooting. 

"It just happened so fast and it was so crazy," Wallace said. "I was like, 'not my dad, not my dad." 

After checking to make sure her own children were unharmed, Wallace rushed to her father’s side to tell him she loved him and was going to be OK. Shortly thereafter, he died at the hospital. 

Wallace’s daughter told NBC's affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth, that her father, a registered nurse, was a “godly” man beloved at the hospital where he worked and at the church where he raised his children. 

"He was just our rock that held us together," Wallace told KXAS. "Even when talking about Heaven, he said he was always prepared, but I never thought this would happen. You think dad would get old and sick but never get murdered.”

"How could someone so evil, the devil, step in the church and do this?" Wallace asked, adding that while she forgives the shooter, she will never forgive the pain he inflicted on her family and church community.

"I forgive him, and it's the hardest thing to say because it's like, somebody killed your dad, but I forgive him," Wallace said. "I’ll never forgive what he did, but I forgive him.”

Investigators said the shooter, wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt, was among the 240 congregants at the church. A livestream recording of the church’s Sunday morning service showed the shooting and the aftermath, local station WFAA reported Sunday. 

In the footage, the shooter gets up when the congregation greets each other, shakes hands and walks out talking to someone. 

The shooter then reenters the sanctuary, talks to a man in a suit and sits down. The person gets up again and talks to the same man, who points in a direction, and the shooter pulls out a firearm and shoots two people. 

Another man pulls out a handgun and shoots the suspect. In the moments that follow, people can be heard screaming and church leaders ask that everyone sit down to wait for the police.

Wallace told reporters she had noticed the gunman and planned to greet him, thinking he was a “visitor, probably looking for new church home.”

Had the gunman "needed food shelter, we would give it to him — whatever he needed. He didn't need to take an innocent life, our dad, grandfather, husband ... fixing to be a father-in-law," she added. 

Matt DeSarno, the special agent in charge of Dallas' FBI field office, said investigators were still trying to determine the motive behind the shooting. He described the shooter as a "relatively transient" person with roots in the area who'd been arrested multiple times in different cities.

Senior minister of the West Freeway Church of Christ, Britt Farmer, said that the church lost “two great men,” adding the incident “destroys” his “heart.” He said the tragedy could have been much worse if the church didn't have its own security force.

"There is evil in this world," Farmer said. "Today is one sermon I'll never preach ... it's called leaving a legacy and two men today left a legacy. But a congregation is going to build on that legacy.”

“We like to say we’re a place your family can call home. Today our home was invaded by evil,” the pastor said, adding that he hopes in “some way, we might be a beacon to those who don’t know what to do, because we proved ... that we can be God-fearing people, but we can protect each other as well.” 

In a statement, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick condemned the shooting and said such a crime in a “place of worship” makes it even more “evil.” He urged Texans to keep the church in their prayers. 

In a later news conference, Patrick praised the two men who shot the gunman and pointed to a recently-passed law that allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in churches, synagogues and other houses of worship.

"This church had its own security team. They were well-trained," Patrick said. "The heroism today is unparalleled. This team responded quickly and within six seconds, the shooting was over."

Texas DPS Director Joeff Williams also commended the church members who were armed and took decisive action, saying, “The citizens who were inside that church undoubtedly saved 242 other parishioners."

The shooting comes two years after a gunman walked into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017, and fatally shot 26 and injured 20 others, including the daughter of pastor Frank Pomeroy. The gunman was shot by a civilian as he left the church.

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