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1 Year After Deadly Church Shooting, Sutherland Springs Community Struggles To Cope


A year ago today, a gunman burst into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He killed more than two dozen people and injured 20 others. Every survivor of that shooting is also a survivor of the intense emotional trauma caused by the experience. Texas Public Radio's Bonnie Petrie has the story.

BONNIE PETRIE, BYLINE: Sutherland Springs is a tiny town in Texas. Just a few hundred people live there. And after the shootings, they were thrust into the national spotlight.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Several people in central Texas are dead after a mass shooting at a rural community church.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Someone walked in there and opened fire.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We will lift up the families who are hurting. We will offer them what we can.

PETRIE: After great trauma, memories of the event and the descriptions of what happened can barrage people with a cacophony of sound and emotions. And sometimes they come as a single moment, a sudden shower of bullets shattering the tranquility of worship.

DAVID COLBATH: I crawled on my elbows under the pews up to the front corner and kind of got stopped with some other people in the way. The shooter stayed on the outside of the building. And he just shot magazine after magazine after magazine straight into the building, so there were bullets just flying around.

PETRIE: That's David Colbath remembering the morning when the gunman started firing outside the church. Colbath crawled to a corner and whispered three names like a prayer.

COLBATH: I love you, Jesus. I love you, Morgan. I love you, Olivia. I love you, Jesus. I love you, Morgan. I love you, Olivia. I don't know how many times I repeated it. My son's name is Morgan. My God is Jesus. And my daughter's Olivia.

PETRIE: Then the gunman came inside, shooting people individually. Colbath was struck 8 times. He was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. A family friend met him there. Colbath entrusted her with a message.

COLBATH: Tell Morgan I love him. Tell Olivia I love her. I said, tell her. Don't forget. Tell her, tell her. I'll tell them, David. I'll tell them. Don't worry, I'll tell them. Sorry.

PETRIE: Now, this medical center routinely treats members of the military who are wounded on the battlefield. And they know physical wounds aren't the only ones that need immediate attention.

COLBATH: I was afforded, immediate of waking up, counseling. That's real important. I want you to understand that because I attribute that to my attitude today. I attribute God to being with me and Christ leading me. But good PTSD help, good counseling from total professionals that have helped our warriors, I got the same kind of help.

PETRIE: Colbath has taken full advantage of the counseling he was offered in the hospital. And he still sees his therapist once a month. Like many victims, he's had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and another phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. Mary Beth Fisk is executive director of The Ecumenical Center, a counseling agency that has worked with survivors of this attack. She says this kind of growth can often take time.

MARY BETH FISK: It really does involve life-changing shifts in thinking and relating to the world that contribute to a personal process of change that is deeply meaningful.

PETRIE: Colbath says since that day one year ago, he has become a different man. He's seen this growth within himself.

COLBATH: Take the shooting away. Take the trauma from that moment away, and this has been the best year of my life.

PETRIE: And for that, he credits his counselors, his children and God. For NPR News, I'm Bonnie Petrie in San Antonio.