Sutherland Springs

God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town


By Joe Holley

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**Winner of the 2021 Texas Institute of Letters Carr P. Collins’ Award for Best Book of Nonfiction**

One part Columbine, one part God Save Texas, Joe Holley's riveting, compassionate book examines the 2017 mass shooting at a church in a small Texas town, revealing the struggles and triumphs of these fellow Texans long after the satellite news trucks have gone.

Sutherland Springs was the last place anyone would have expected to be victimized by our modern-day scourge of mass shootings. Founded in the 1850s along historic Cibolo Creek, the tiny community, named for the designated physician during the siege of the Alamo, was once a vibrant destination for wealthy tourists looking to soak up the "cures" of its namesake mineral springs. By November 5, 2017, however, the day a former Air Force enlistee opened fire in the town's First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs was a shadow of its former self. Twenty-six people died that Sunday morning, in the worst mass shooting in a place of worship in American history.

Holley, who roams the Lone Star State as the "Native Texan" columnist for the Houston Chronicle and earned a Pulitzer- Prize nomination for his editorials about guns, spent more than a year embedded in the community. Long after most journalists had left, he stayed with his fellow Texans, getting to know a close-knit group of people – victims, heroes, and survivors. Holley shows how they work to come to terms with their loss and to rebuild shattered lives, marked by their deep faith in God and in guns. He also uses Sutherland Springs' unique history and its decades-long decline as a prism for understanding how an act of unspeakable violence reflects the complicated realities of Texas and America in the twenty-first century.


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When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,

"It is well, it is well with my soul."

—Hymn written by Horatio Spafford (1873)

However it happens, sometimes hearts do heal, through what I can only call grace.

—Elaine Pagels, Why Religion?

It's not just our story. It's America's story.

—Holly Hannum, whose brother was killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs


ON A FALL AFTERNOON in Austin, a Sunday, I was sitting at a table in a large, crowded tent at the Texas Book Festival signing copies of a book I'd written called Hometown Texas. The book was a collection of my columns about small-town Texas that appear weekly in the Houston Chronicle. From near the tail end of the line, my daughter Kate walked up.

"Did you hear about the shooting?" she asked.

I had not. I wasn't sure what she was talking about, because what we have come to call mass shootings have become so depressingly familiar in this country, it's hard to keep up with the most recent. This one had happened just a few hours earlier, Kate said. In Texas. She hadn't caught exactly where, although she thought it was a small town near San Antonio.

After my signing chores, I walked to my car and headed eastward toward Houston, tuning in CNN on satellite radio for the three-hour drive home. A small Texas town, I heard. A Baptist church. Multiple deaths. Sutherland Springs. It was November 5, 2017.

Despite decades of writing about Texas, including about many unlikely and overlooked people and places in my native state, I had never written about Sutherland Springs. I had written about the small Central Texas town of Hillsboro, where in the early 1930s, my Uncle Joe—I'm his namesake—had ended up in a jail cell with Raymond Hamilton, one of Bonnie and Clyde's drivers. That Joe Holley had been incarcerated for stealing chickens to feed his family; Hamilton had robbed a jewelry store and killed the owner.

I had written about the venerable opera house in Nacogdoches, where in 1907 a musical quartet of young vaudeville performers calling themselves the Four Nightingales were upstaged by a runaway mule; that bizarre incident prompted the Nightingales (actually the Marx brothers) to realize they were comedians, not musicians.

I had written about cowboy poets in Alpine, buffalo soldiers in Fort Davis, the author of the longest novel in the English language in Waco, and a tinkerer in the picturesque German community of Fredericksburg who may have invented the airplane in the mid-1800s.

I had written about the rascally old Indian fighter/Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace—who called his trusty rifle "Sweet Lips"—and the tiny South Texas town named in his honor. Not Wallace. Bigfoot. My mother was the Bigfoot High School valedictorian, class of 1932. Most small Texas towns were replete with the three Ps—place, people, and a colorful past—and I was familiar with dozens of them. Sutherland Springs was only about sixty-five miles northeast of Bigfoot, but not only had I never written about the place, I had never heard of it, had never noticed it on a map. As I would come to find out, it was easy to miss.

As I listened to increasingly grim and distressing reports as I drove, an old reporter's instinct kicked in. I had to go find out. I took the I-35 toward San Antonio, eighty miles southward.


A little more than an hour later, I looped around San Antonio's suburban fringe, a network of subdivisions and strip centers, and turned southeast along a two-lane blacktop through gently rolling pastureland dotted with mesquite and mottes of live oak. I passed cattle grazing, occasionally horses, fields of baled hay. Brick or stone ranch-style houses set away from the road behind wire fencing were attractive and well kept. Giant they were not. They appeared to be country getaways or maybe ranchettes, small cattle operations that retirees or refugees from the city operated. It was rural South Texas, pleasant enough but nothing spectacular, nothing out of the ordinary.

Sutherland Springs is not really a town but an unincorporated community bisected by a busy highway. Traffic ignores the blinking yellow light. Sutherland Springs has no downtown business district, no school, no noticeable landmark. (It does have a colorful history, but I didn't know that at the time.)

The sun set as I drove. Crossing narrow, tree-lined Cibolo Creek and heading up a slight incline, I passed a Sutherland Springs city limits sign. I slowed to a crawl as knots of people loomed out of the darkness. Huge satellite trucks and police vehicles, red lights flashing, crowded the highway. Rubberneckers spilled into the blinking-light intersection of state Highway 87 and Farm Road 539. A sheriff's deputy in a western hat and reflective vest directed motorists unaccustomed to slowing down.

I parked along a street of modest frame houses and ramshackle mobile homes a couple of blocks from the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the site a few hours earlier of the worst mass shooting in modern Texas history. The small, boxy building, its exterior walls clad in weathered white siding, its wooden front door positioned under a squat steeple, was bathed in harsh light brighter than a summer day's. Yellow crime scene tape kept the curious out of the front yard.

In the post office parking lot across the highway from the church, a middle-aged Hispanic man wearing all black was conducting a candlelight prayer vigil. "I propose that we make a pact that in this small town that evil will not prevail," he was saying as I walked up. Recorded gospel music played from a speaker on the ground nearby.

Mike Gonzales, the man conducting the service (a retired Army warrant officer with two tours of duty in Iraq, he would tell me later), was surrounded by dozens of men, women, and children holding candles, clutching each other and sobbing. Surrounding the inner circle was a ring of reporters with notebooks and iPhones, photographers jostling for shots, and cameramen maneuvering bulky equipment.

"I mean, you hear about Vegas," a middle-aged man said in a quiet voice, speaking to himself as much as to me, "but when it's a stone's throw from your house…" He looked down at the ground and shook his head. "It's so quiet here. It doesn't happen here." (Just a few weeks earlier in Las Vegas, more than fifty people had been killed and more than five hundred injured when a gunman in a high-rise hotel room opened fire on an outdoor concert below.)

As the impromptu service continued, I was careful not to step in front of a slender gray-haired man in a blue polo shirt and khakis who sat in a wheelchair beside me. He was holding high a candle in a plastic cup. It took me a second to realize I was standing beside Texas governor Greg Abbott, who seemed to be alone in the crowd. Years earlier, a tree limb had fallen on him as he jogged along a residential street in Houston. He has been a paraplegic ever since.

As Gonzales continued to speak, I glanced across the road at the little church, now surrounded by portable fencing. Bright lights illuminated police officers and investigators going about their business. I tried to take in the horror of what had happened inside the white frame building that morning. I tried to imagine swarms of bullets from a military-style assault rifle burrowing into bodies of helpless men, women, and children as they prayed and sang hymns of praise. What had happened was beyond imagining. In time I would come to know the details.

That evening I didn't know Ryland Ward, a five-year-old boy who miraculously survived being shot numerous times at point-blank range. I didn't know Kris Workman, the church's young praise team director, shot in the back and instantly paralyzed from the waist down. Both were in the hospital that Sunday evening—the little boy fighting to stay alive; the active young man, a former college tennis player and dirt-track race car driver, undergoing surgery and contemplating life with useless legs. I didn't know that at that very moment numerous family members were still waiting at a church a couple of miles up the road—waiting to hear from authorities whether their loved ones were alive or dead.

I didn't know Sherri Pomeroy, the pastor's soft-spoken wife, who, with her husband Frank, had lost beloved Annabelle, their dark-haired, dark-eyed fourteen-year-old. Friends would recall that the teenager was always smiling. I didn't know Sarah Slavin, a young woman with dyed-purple hair who lost nine members of her family, or her sister-in-law Jennifer Holcombe, whose infant daughter was shot and killed as she held the little girl. I didn't know David Colbath, who lay on the floor as the shooter buried the muzzle of his assault rifle into his back and pulled the trigger. I knew none of the people I would come to appreciate and respect in the ensuing weeks and months.


Journalists by the nature of our work parachute in to the site of a tragedy or a natural disaster; we stay for a day or so, notebooks, cameras, and tape recorders at the ready; and then take off for the next big story. We briefly meet people like Sarah Slavin and Sherri Pomeroy, and then we move on. But they do not move on. Their heartache does not heal in a day or a week or a month. Neither do their physical wounds. As in Newtown and Charleston and Las Vegas and Orlando and Santa Fe and Pittsburgh and El Paso—and other sites from an ever-lengthening list—in Sutherland Springs lives were forever changed that November morning.

Glancing back at the governor on that warm evening, I remembered a Facebook ad he had posted in 2013, shortly before he announced his running for the state's highest office. Abbott was the Texas attorney general at the time. The ad, designed to assuage any doubts the state's hard-right Republican base might harbor about him, was anything but subtle. It featured a semiautomatic pistol lying next to a well-thumbed Bible.

"Two things every American should know how to use," the ad proclaimed in block letters beneath the gun and Bible. "Neither of which are taught in schools."

I know the governor. He is a congenial man in person. I admired him for showing up unannounced that evening in Sutherland Springs and not claiming the spotlight. I had been less than admiring in a series of Houston Chronicle editorials I had written throughout the year about guns and the Texas gun culture, work that had been honored a few months earlier with a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The editorials usually explored policy; in the little church across the road, policy was secondary. People had suffered and died in that invaded sanctuary.

In the editorials, I had chided the governor about the Facebook ad and about the relentless crusade he and his allies had launched in the Texas legislature to make firearms ubiquitous and unregulated. In my reporting and research, nonetheless, I sought to understand a belief among many of my fellow Texans that was almost religious in its depth and intensity, a belief in the sanctity of a sophisticated machine crafted to kill, a belief that Abbott proudly shared. "Gundamentalism" is the word that retired Presbyterian minister James Atwood coined to describe the almost mystical hold that grips Second Amendment absolutists.

In Sutherland Springs, faith in guns had collided with faith in God. Defenseless Christians, many of them ardent gun owners themselves, had become collateral damage in a holy war.

Twenty-six people died that morning less than a hundred yards from where I stood next to the governor. Twenty more were wounded. Paradoxically, we would soon learn that a gun-wielding "hero" may have saved many of the survivors from being slaughtered. Months later, that same hero, a soft-spoken plumber and certified National Rifle Association instructor, used his vast personal gun collection to give me a gun tutorial in the living room of his home across the road from the church. "All I ask is that you don't make me look bad," he requested.

I assured him that I wouldn't—and I won't. But I would try to understand him and others like him, men and women devoted to their guns, despite the mortal peril the misuse of guns has unleashed in this country.


As the prayers and hymns continued that autumn evening, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I instinctively stepped aside, thinking it was a cameraman angling for a better view of the governor. It turned out to be my son Pete, a reporter for the Washington Post. Back home in Texas for the weekend to attend a family reunion, he had been at the gathering for all of ten minutes when he got the call from the Post news desk to head to a place he, too, had never heard of.

Despite the fact that he wore a Washington Post "Democracy Dies in Darkness" T-shirt on his foray into fervid-red Texas, I was proud to watch him work. It's not often that father and son cover a story together.

I realized I was fortunate. I had seen two of my kids that day, both grown and on their own. Thinking as a father helped me feel, viscerally, the depth of loss the people of Sutherland Springs were trying to comprehend. Pete and I, along with hundreds of journalists from around the world, now presumed to tell their story. We had descended on an unassuming little town at a time when residents and church members were trying to cope with almost unimaginable horror. I'd been in similar situations—covering a rarely remembered mass shooting in a Fort Worth church twenty years earlier, reporting on the little town of West, Texas, after a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion—but to intrude on people's grief and sorrow never gets easy.

In an article that ran a couple of weeks after the shooting, reporter Lauren McGaughy of the Dallas Morning News described knocking on the door of a home near the church. She introduced herself to members of the Ward family, just returned from the hospital and awaiting news about four relatives—three kids (including Ryland, the five-year-old) and their mother. They invited her in.

"Maybe they opened up because they trusted me, or it was a welcome distraction," Lauren recalled. "Maybe it was just luck and timing. Whatever the reason, I wrote their story sitting at their kitchen table.…I decided to choose my interactions carefully. But I was still there, a stranger, an outsider, my presence an intrusion." (Two of the youngsters died, as did their mother.)

Most reporters feel a similar unease in such situations—I know I do—and yet driving home through the dark countryside that night, I decided I would stay a while. I banked on getting to know the people I would write about and allowing them to get to know me. I realized it would take more than a quick interview at the local Dairy Queen (if Sutherland Springs had a Dairy Queen) to reach the heart of the story.

I suspected that Sutherland Springs had something to tell us all about the epidemic of mass shootings in this country and the culture of fear those shootings engender. Maybe what happened in that little church on a Sunday morning—the Lord's Day, Pastor Frank Pomeroy often reminds his parishioners—would reveal something about this nation's trust in guns, about the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity that tolerate such trust, and about everyday life in twenty-first-century rural America at a time when urban and rural, red and blue, old and young seem irrevocably estranged. Sutherland Springs could have been any one of dozens of American communities that have suffered through a mass shooting. I hoped it would be possible to connect this unprepossessing little place, its concreteness and specificity, to larger discussions and debate and perhaps mutual understanding.

Adam Winkler, a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), law professor who writes about America's gun culture (Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America), has suggested that Texas might be the prototype for an armed America, with no controls, no limits on our Second Amendment freedoms. Winkler posited that the nation, with a newly installed conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, might be only a ruling away from that National Rifle Association (NRA) ideal. I wondered whether a tiny community no one had ever heard of was the American future in microcosm.


Although I knew nothing about Sutherland Springs, I knew its people in a way. I am, in fact, a native Texan who grew up in a small, working-class community near Waco (where folks might have owned a shotgun or a .22 for dove hunting, but not an assault rifle, or rifles). Like the residents whose lives revolve around their faith, I was deeply involved as a youngster with my extended family's fundamentalist church. We, too, believed in the Bible, literally.

I would come to learn, from that first evening, that the people of Sutherland Springs are people of deep, even desperate, faith. Would their faith sustain them in the face of grievous loss? Despite my own early immersion in fundamentalist Christianity, I was confounded initially by what seemed to be their unquestioning trust and acceptance. I simply couldn't believe what they were telling me. Surely, they were deluding themselves. Surely, rage, however impotent, would have been a more appropriate response.

When I expressed my skepticism and befuddlement to my old friend Robert Abzug, a historian who heads the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, he reminded me that many Holocaust survivors rejected their faith once they set about rebuilding their shattered lives. Dismayed and disillusioned, they could not imagine paying homage to a God who would allow such horror to happen.

Wouldn't a similar disillusionment set in among the people of Sutherland Springs? They professed to accept with equanimity, with all-embracing faith, what had happened to them. How could that be, I wondered.

For more than a year—from the night of the shooting until the first anniversary—I attended Sunday morning services and Thursday evening Bible classes, visited in homes, shared meals at Baldy's Diner and elsewhere. I asked impertinent questions, probed for deep and honest responses, gently urged men and women who didn't really know the guy with the reporter's notebook to revisit—indeed, to re-create for me—the most painful experience of their lives. I'm grateful that most were willing to help, and I deeply appreciate their trust. I also understand that some I asked simply could not. I do understand.

Three hundred or so miles northeast of Sutherland Springs is a little Piney Woods town near the Louisiana line called New London. About the same size as Sutherland Springs, it's known—if it's known at all these days—for one thing: On a March afternoon in 1937, a gas explosion destroyed the New London public school. Walls collapsed and the roof fell in, burying victims in a mass of brick, steel, and concrete debris. Of the 500 students and 40 teachers in the building that afternoon, nearly 300 died. Only about 130 youngsters escaped serious injury. To this day, the town commemorates its loss.

Chances are, the little town of Sutherland Springs will be remembered eight decades from now, a century from now—if it's remembered at all—for what happened on a Sunday morning in the fall of 2017. Travelers in their self-driving cars on Highway 87 will repeat the story as they pass by. Reporters now and then will offer up anniversary retellings.

Pastor Frank insisted otherwise. The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs will be a city set on a hill, he proclaimed from the pulpit on a Sunday morning not long after the tragedy. It will be known for turning evil into good, known for good works among the community. As he spoke—prophesying, if you will—his people said amen. On that Sunday morning, as on every Sunday morning, the prophet wore a pistol on his hip.

Chapter One


SARAH HOLCOMBE SLAVIN WAS running late for church. The fact that she and her husband, Rocky, lived fifteen miles out in the country and that their daughter, Elene, was two years old had something to do with her tardiness. So also did a certain spiritual malaise she had been feeling for, who knows, maybe a couple of years. On this November morning, however, her dad was the fill-in preacher, and her mom would be giving the announcements. She couldn't miss that.

Sarah was thirty-three, although with her dyed-purple hair, her small stature, and her penchant for faded jeans and T-shirts, many assumed she was a teenager. A country girl, she had grown up in a large extended family outside Floresville, a little ranching town with a frontier square, a venerable stone courthouse, and a large concrete peanut on the courthouse lawn (commemorating what used to be the area's cash crop). Like most small-town kids, she had cheered for the Mighty Tigers football team on Friday nights and hung out with friends at the local Sonic Drive-In. She had worked at Dairy Queen, where she was known for her smile and her courtesy. She and Rocky, a computer geek, married early.

She was a math major in college and had taught high school math after graduating, but a year in the classroom was enough to convince her that teaching wasn't for her. She quit to work with her dad, Bryan Holcombe, who made custom canvas covers for cattle trailers in an old, Army surplus building in the country. Amid the whir of industrial-sized sewing machines, surrounded by giant rolls of tarp, she got to know her dad not only as a parent but also as a friend and mentor. While Sarah worked, little Elene contented herself in the "baby jail," a penned-off area against one wall with toys, a TV, and colored chalk for scribbling on the blackboard on the wall beside the "jail." Some days, Sarah's sister-in-law, Jenni Holcombe, came out to the shop. Her baby girl Noah Grace sat and played in the baby jail with Elene while their mothers visited.

Like Paul the apostle, Bryan was a tentmaker of sorts, when he wasn't preaching or playing his ukulele and sharing his faith with inmates in the Wilson County Jail. His American Canvas Works customers were local farmers and ranchers, truck drivers, small-business people in places like Floresville and Stockdale and Karnes City. They were small-town, hardworking people. A native of Victoria, Texas, near the Gulf Coast, Bryan was one of them.

As a child, Sarah detested church, but her parents made her go. "I would fight, because they made me wear a dress, and I thought I already knew all the Sunday school lessons anyway," she recalled. "Sometime in my early teenage years, I started actually enjoying going to church. I started reading the Bible for myself instead of just learning what I was taught. I got really into it and became a bit pushy and arrogant about it all. What I believed was right, and anybody who disagreed was wrong."

Maturity, she said, brought a bit of humility and an acknowledgment that she didn't know everything. For her own life, she settled on a kind of divine wager worthy of Pascal's. "If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing," the French philosopher had written. Sarah agreed.

Her parents' deep devotion made her a bit uncomfortable at times, and yet she saw how their faith affected people around them. Her mother, Karla Holcombe, was in charge of Vacation Bible School at church. She fed the homeless and made weekly bread runs for the church's food pantry. Bryan had his jail ministry. As a young wife and mother, as a member of a close extended family, Sarah wanted her own life to be as purposeful and as contented as her parents' lives seemed to be.

She made a conscious decision in the tradition of William James, the agile and profound American thinker who devoted much of his life to pondering "the reality of the unseen." She would nurture a will to believe.

In Sarah's words, "I decided that I wasn't sure whether Christianity was true, but that it could be true and that it was beneficial to believe it was true, whether it was really true or not."

Doubt assailed her Christian pragmatism during her late twenties. Was there really a God, and was he truly the God she read about in the New Testament? Why would he allow terrible things to happen? Although she laughs about her musings now, she went so far as to think that maybe God was some kind of alien life-form.

"So, anyway," she recalled, "my prayers became more along the lines of 'God, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I really would like to know if you are real and if you really love us and know us each personally, and why some things in the Bible are so crazy, and I would like you to speak to me somehow to let me know, without scaring the crap out of me if possible, because in the Bible whenever someone hears from God or an angel they are always scared to death.'"


  • "An amazingly powerful book. [Holley] goes really deep and it's very moving."—Douglas Preston
  • "I have been a Joe Holley fan from my earliest days in Texas. Sutherland Springs is Holley at his best, coupling his brand of immersive journalism with empathy and insight to help us understand a nightmare that keeps repeating itself in other places."
    Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
  • "Through persistent immersive journalism, Holley has produced a heart-rending work of extraordinary empathy."—The Texas Observer
  • "By carefully reconstructing the details of the shooting at First Baptist and faithfully observing the church's long journey of mourning and recovery, Holley's book makes its own important contribution to state and national debates over gun control. Decades of inaction amid recurring episodes of tragedy cast doubt on our willingness to embrace more forceful restrictions. Perhaps Sutherland Springs can renew our sense of urgency."—Christianity Today (5 stars)
  • "If anyone can make sense of the tragedy of Sutherland Springs, where 26 people lost their lives during a worship-service mass shooting in 2017, it is my former colleague, Joe Holley. This is a remarkable work of reporting - and human empathy. As a native Texan, Joe offers a profound understanding of a shattered community and of a culture where faith in God is intertwined with faith in guns. His examination of the shooting at Sutherland Springs -- by turns infuriating, heartbreaking and hopeful -- could well become a classic of American reportage."—Matt Schudel, staff writer, The Washington Post
  • "Joe Holley's moving narrative of loss and resilience in Sutherland Springs is a tour-de-force of engaged journalism. Holley takes us into the hearts and minds of survivors of the murders as they square their losses with belief in a just and merciful God and a commitment to gun culture. Most of all, he constructs a vivid narrative that shines a light on this modest community in the shadow of death, and indelibly humanizes a story that might well have been forgotten as the horrific massacre receded in time and memory."—Robert H. Abzug, Professor of History and American Studies, University of Texas
  • "A harrowing story of good and evil that gives way to hope, but also a window into the frustrating irony of America's gun culture. Veteran Texas journalist Joe Holley tells this tragedy with empathy and love. You will pray for the people of Sutherland Springs after reading this book, and you just may hope that they're praying for all of us who live in a dangerous time."
    Barry Hankins, Professor of History, Baylor University
  • "After every mass shooting, reporters leave when the 'thoughts and prayers' are over. But after a gunman killed or wounded half the congregation of a small-town church, Joe Holley stayed behind to witness the homecoming of those in rehab, the building of crowd-funded ramps for the permanently disabled, and the arrival of armed outsiders claiming the tragedy had been a staged hoax. Sutherland Springs is an important book that offers a deep understanding of how a community embracing both faith and guns confronts the violence of our time."
    Betty Sue Flowers, former director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and coauthor of Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future
  • "You may cry while reading this important and absorbing new book. You also may draw inspiration and courage from the reactions, resilience, and faith of those who survived... No matter how you view Texas's stance on Second Amendment rights, the state's pervasive 'gun culture,' or the availability of effective mental health care, this compassionate, well-researched work by veteran Texas journalist and Pulitzer Prize-finalist Joe Holley raises vital questions."—Lone Star Literary
  • "With the eyes, ears, and instincts of a veteran reporter; the judicious balance of an acclaimed editorial writer; the ability to win and deserve the trust of people devastated by senseless tragedy; and the skills of a gifted story-teller, Joe Holley has crafted a compelling account of one of the worst mass shootings in American history. Put more simply, this is a terrific book."
    William Martin, Senior Fellow, Religion and Public Policy, Rice University's Baker Institute, and author of A Prophet with Honor
  • "The rawness of this story reflects not just the resilience of communities of faith but also the insanity of our accommodation of gun violence that creates the need for resilience in the first place. The question is finally not "Why, God?" but "Why, us?" Joe Holley helps us to get to both."
    Katie Day, Charles A. Schieren Professor Emerita of Church and Society, United Lutheran Seminary
  • "An extraordinarily intimate account of the 2017 mass shooting...harrowing...this empathetic, finely wrought chronicle offers a revealing window into an ongoing national tragedy."
    Publishers Weekly

On Sale
Mar 17, 2020
Page Count
304 pages
Hachette Books

Joe Holley

About the Author

Joe Holley, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle and a retired editorial writer, was a 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series of editorials on gun control and the Texas gun culture. A former editor of the Texas Observer and a staff writer for the Washington Post, he’s the author of six books, including Hometown Texas, a collection of his weekly “Native Texan” columns, and Hurricane Season: The Unforgettable Story of the Houston Astros and the Resilience of a City. A native Texan himself, he and his wife Laura live in Austin.

Learn more about this author