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He Massacred 26 People. She Keeps Returning to the Scene

Michelle Shields talks about the aftermath of the Sutherland Springs church massacre
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2018 8:04 AM CDT
Updated Sep 2, 2018 7:01 AM CDT
In this Nov. 12, 2017, file photo, a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, including 26 white chairs each painted with a cross and and rose, is displayed...   (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(Newser) – "The Lord had a different plan for me, maybe for me to be left behind and help the survivors." So speculates Michelle Shields, who in an alternate universe would be dead. In this one, she's very much alive, having stayed home on a fateful Sunday from services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, due to her husband's back pain and the late night the couple had had watching a grandchild. While they were home, her son-in-law murdered 26 people. In what the Washington Post calls a "rare interview," Shields speaks with Emily Wax-Thibodeaux about how life is coming together 11 months after Devin Patrick Kelley's shooting spree and suicide. Wax-Thibodeaux paints Shields as a woman on a mission: to show up for the survivors.

"I don’t like going in there," Shields says of what was the church; now it's a near-empty room, with 26 rose-adorned white chairs arranged where each victim was killed. But she's there often, facilitating visits from out-of-towners who want to pay their respects. Two of those chairs are particularly jarring for her: Shields' 71-year-old mother, Lula Woicinski White, was killed, as was her best friend, Karla Plain Holcombe. Shields says the three women, plus Sherri Pomeroy, the pastor's wife whose 14-year-old daughter was killed, were the self-dubbed "four amigos. ... Now there are only two of us." Read Wax-Thibodeaux's full piece, in which Shields recounts how tense things had gotten with Kelley, who had barred Shields from coming to the hospital after the birth of his daughter. (Read more Longform stories.)

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