STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In Sutherland Springs, Texas, that's where a gunman opened fire on worshippers at the First Baptist Church, killing 26 people. Many of those who survived gathered yesterday, and NPR's Leila Fadel was there.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Amazing grace...
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hundreds of people are packed in a tent on a baseball field in Sutherland Springs. Some came from across Texas to pray with the First Baptist Church, and some came from across the country.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) I once was lost...
FADEL: At the front of the tent are the surviving parishioners of the church. Pastor Frank Pomeroy wasn't there that Sunday, but his daughter was killed and his congregation nearly wiped out.
FRANK POMEROY: Folks, we have the freedom to choose, and rather than choose darkness, as the one young man did that day, I say we choose life. And by choosing life...
FADEL: Pomeroy urges people to stay strong in their faith.
POMEROY: I know it's hard for many of you to be here today, but you're here, and you're standing, and you're clapping, and you're praising the Lord.
FADEL: He's funny at times and stoic. But in the middle of his sermon, he breaks down for just a moment.
POMEROY: I know every single name...
POMEROY: I know everyone who gave their life that day, some of which were my best friends and my daughter. And I guarantee you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, they are dancing with Jesus today.
FADEL: The message is clear - not to wallow but to live and not to let this attack destroy their faith. After the service and a meal, parishioners walked to their cars.
APRIL HIGGINS: Two today, one tomorrow, the big one Wednesday for the Holcombs.
FADEL: That's April Higgins, rattling off the number of funerals she'll go to. The Holcombs lost eight members of their family.
Is there a normal after this again?
HIGGINS: Never. No, I don't think so. But we'll come together stronger.
FADEL: A few blocks away is the church where her friends were killed and she spends almost every Sunday. Now, it's a memorial. The blood is painted over, the bullet holes filled and the room a pristine white.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Next group, get ready. Please remove your hat and come (unintelligible).
FADEL: It opened to the public Sunday evening, a few people allowed in at a time. Inside, recordings of past services play on loop. There's a white chair for every life lost, the names painted in gold on the front of each seat - Peggy, Noah, Karla, Emily, Belle, and the list goes on. A single red rose is placed on each chair, the chairs positioned precisely where the bodies fell.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: There's a...
FADEL: Dozens of people wait to go in, many from out of town, like Carolina Gamboa, after her own church service in San Antonio where her pastor let them all know that three fellow churchgoers had guns for their protection. She said she had to come, and she had to see. And she walked away thinking this.
CAROLINA GAMBOA: That it can happen anywhere, that we need to be at peace. We need to be at peace with our enemies, with, you know, with each other, with family.
FADEL: How do you do this?
GAMBOA: I don't know, but it starts today.
FADEL: No one knows if this building will be demolished or left as a permanent memorial. For now, the congregation will pray outside the very place the massacre occurred. And the little white building will be open five days a week so people don't forget what happened here. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Sutherland Springs.
(SOUNDBITE OF EXPRESS RISING'S "TRAVELERS WHO'D SEEN IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.