Shared from the 5/21/2018 Houston Chronicle eEdition


‘There are no words to take away … hurt, pain’

As community grieves, authorities say explosives were functional, contradicting earlier statements

Marie D. De Jesus / Houston Chronicle

A woman and child honor the victims of Friday’s mass shooting at Santa Fe High School with flowers at a makeshift memorial.

Marie D. De Jesus photos / Houston Chronicle

Nathan Jordan, 18, asenior at Alvin High School, sobs during a service at Arcadia First Baptist Church two days after the Santa Fe school shooting that killed 10 people.


Amy Roden, a senior at Santa Fe High School, is embraced by a family from Alvin who came to Santa Fe on Sunday to pay their respects to the victims of the mass shooting there Friday.

Songs of peace and healing filled Arcadia First Baptist Church in Santa Fe on Sunday as grieving parishioners came together for prayers and strength while the investigation continues into the mass shooting Friday that left eight students and two teachers dead at the local high school.

With a 17-year-old student behind bars on capital murder charges, shaken residents attended church services, vigils, a pre-graduation baccalaureate service and final prayers for a foreign exchange student killed in the morning rampage.

And as the community struggled to move forward, law enforcement offered up new details about Friday’s attack, saying experts determined that some of the explosives linked to the mass shooting were functional — contrary to earlier reports from local officials.

Federal agents are continuing to investigate the shooting and the U.S. Justice Department is considering filing additional charges against suspect Dimitrios Pagourtzis, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

On Sunday, churchgoers hugged and greeted one another at the Baptist church, where Gov. Greg Abbott joined the congregation for the morning.

“We need to pray that as a nation we begin to turn back to the Lord, that this senseless killing may be stopped in our schools,” said interim Pastor Jerl Watkins. “Do we need to do more than just pray? Yes, we certainly do, but prayer needs to be a continual and integral part of all that we do.”

He called for people to turn to faith in times of tragedy.

“There are no words to take away that hurt and pain,” Watkins said. “But Father, you have something that can give us peace in spite of the pain.”

Stash of explosives

Pagourtzis, a junior, is facing charges of capital murder and aggravated assault on a public servant after police say he admitted to stashing a revolver and a shotgun under his trench coat and opening fire Friday during first period at Santa Fe High School.

Police haven’t offered a motive yet, but according to court filings, Pagourtzis — who some said was the target of school bullies — told investigators he spared classmates he liked so that his story could be told afterward.

When authorities arrested the teen half an hour after the massacre, they warned of possible explosives discovered around the building.

Hours later, officials reported the devices were shoddily constructed and lacked the detonators necessary for a fiery explosion. The Molotov cocktail and bundles of duct-taped CO2 canisters and nails found at the school, however, could have been deadly, they said.

Yet, midday Sunday, law enforcement offered a different take. The explosives found on campus were functional, a development that could open up the possibility of federal charges in the case against the suspected gunman.

Similar devices were found at two other locations, but it’s not clear whether those were operational as well, the source said.

It was news to attorney Nicholas Poehl, who is representing Pagourtzis.

“That would be the very first I’ve heard of that,” Poehl said. “I’m not in a position to deny it, but that would be strange given the authorities’ prior statements on that.”

Pagourtzis has already made his first court appearance in Galveston, but he has no additional court hearings set. Poehl said it was “too early” to say how his client might plead, though he has indicated he may seek a mental health exam.

But even as the investigation unfolds, Poehl said law enforcement officials have rejected the idea that Pagourtzis targeted one of his victims because she rejected his advances, as the girl’s mother has said.

Poehl said there’s likewise been no discussion of charging the teen’s parents for allegedly failing to secure the weapons used in the attack.

“I don’t think it’s likely that the parents face any criminal liability under existing law,” he said. “Given that the guns were locked up and he was 17, I don’t see a way to charge them.”

Pagourtzis’ parents issued a statement saying they were “saddened and dismayed” by the charges, and said they “seem incompatible with the boy we love.”

A nation’s problem

Early Sunday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called out the distraught parents in an ABC interview in which he also decried the influence of video games and pushed to arm teachers.

“We don’t know all the facts yet, but this particular young man got his guns in some way from his parents’ home,” he said. “You should have your guns locked up. It’s against the law in Texas to let any loaded gun get in the hands of children.”

But, he stressed, fewer guns are not the answer.

“We cannot sit back and say it’s the gun; it’s us as a nation,” he told “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos. “We take the guns out of society — if you or anyone else thinks that that makes us safer, then — then — then I’m sad to say that you’re mistaken.”

Abbott took a quieter approach, announcing a moment of silence statewide for 10 a.m. Monday and showing up for the Santa Fe church service.

Hunter Bloomfield was among the students who attended the church service Sunday. The high school senior fled the school and hid at a nearby automotive shop as news spread of the active shooter. He was one of several seniors recognized at the Sunday service as part of a planned celebration of high school graduates.

But the shooting changed the focus of the service.

“We had a scare a month or two ago,” Bloomfield said about a false threat in February that caused the school to go on lock-down. “I thought that was as bad as it was going to get. I didn’t think there was actually going to be a shooter at our school.”

Students also attended baccalaureate services Sunday evening, with graduation set for June 1.

School is set to resume Wednesday, though some parents indicated they are worried about sending their children back into the building.

“I’m going to home-school,” said parent Melissa Ansley, “because this kind of stuff scares me.”

Katherine Blunt, Alyson Ward and Shelby Webb contributed to this report.

See this article in the e-Edition Here