Tuesday night was supposed to be a high point of Annabelle Pomeroy’s year.
Months ago, the 14-year-old was cast in her first play, Seguin Independent School District’s production of Elf The Musical. She was beyond excited to have not only a speaking role, but a dancing part, too, her parents said.
Her moment in the spotlight would never come. She was killed, along with 24 other people and an unborn child, when a gunman opened fire at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, on November 5.
Her parents, First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, were unexpectedly reminded of the play in a Facebook post. Moments like those shake them out of their new normal and send them into a tailspin, Frank Pomeroy told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
In the month since the shooting, the couple has attended 12 funerals and spent countless hours in hospitals and the homes of victims’ families.
As Pomeroy describes it, life is like a hula hoop with a thorn stuck in it. “Every now and then the thorn sticks you and you’ll cry, but you’ve got to keep hula-hooping and eventually the thorn will wear down some, he said.
His faith is stronger than ever after the shooting, he said.
“If I give up on the mission now, that means those 26 died in vain,” he said. “It’s difficult, and I just have to … pray and do the best I can moment by moment.”
Pastor Frank was hundreds of miles away at a class in Oklahoma City the morning of the shooting. He learned the news in a text message from the church’s videographer that said something to the effect of “active shooter.”
“Surely, you’re joking,” he recalled texting in response.
When the answer was no, Pomeroy jumped in his car and made the eight-hour drive back home.
He made it to Sutherland Springs before his wife, who was also out of the state. She was at the airport in Florida when she got the phone call from her husband letting her know their daughter was among the dead.
Then she began her own eight-hour journey home. “I was in a fog,” she said.
Sometimes, she wishes she had been at the church the day of shooting so her daughter would not have been alone. But she has other children and grandchildren, as well as her extended church family, survivors of the shooting among them. Some are paralyzed, their lives irreparably changed. If they can make it, she can too.
“Yes, it hurts to lose a child, but they’ve lost also and they’re still standing. How can I not stand with them?”
Pastor Frank has moments of doubt, too, when he wonders if he could have changed the outcome. He carries a gun, and, before the shooting happened, he had come up with a plan for an active shooter at the church.
He recalls Psalms 23 as he tries not to dwell on the what-ifs. As he understands it, nothing in the verse suggests that pausing or stopping to rest is an option in the valley of the shadow of death.
“If you sit and you park in those kind of thoughts — of the ifs and the what-ifs — I think that we’re staying in the valley of the shadow of death,” he said. “You’ve got to just get through there and keep on moving.”