Darkley pastor who survived massacre tells of prayers for Texas victims
A Co Armagh pastor who survived the Darkley massacre has said he is praying for the victims of those killed in the Texas church shooting and their families.
David Bell said he was shaken by the gun attack at the First Baptist Church at Sutherland Springs outside San Antonio.
Some 26 people were killed, with a further 20 injured, after gunman Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at the small church outside San Antonio during its Sunday service.
The massacre bears haunting similarities to what happened at Darkley in Co Armagh 34 years ago, when republican gunmen attacked a church service.
Pastor Bell said that as he heard the news his thoughts were immediately for the victims, the injured and their families, as they came to terms with what had happened.
"Obviously our thoughts and prayers are with the families that have been affected by this terrible tragedy in Texas," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"We have our own memories and reflections at this time of year in relation to the events which happened in Darkley in 1983, and so we certainly feel very much for the families of those involved, and the church family as a whole."
Pastor Bell was 25 years old when, on November 20, 1983, republican gunmen attacked the Mountain Lodge church during its evening service.
Before he became a pastor, he was one of around 60 worshippers in the small wooden building when INLA terrorists shot dead Harold Brown (59), David Wilson (44) and Victor Cunningham (39) as they stood at the doors of the church hall.
A further seven people were injured as the gunmen sprayed the building with bullets while the congregation were singing the hymn, Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb.
Pastor Bell said the men killed will never be forgotten, particularly at this time of year, approaching the anniversary.
He said two of the widows of the victims still regularly attend church services, despite living further away these days.
"Those events took place 34 years ago, so a lot of people have moved on and we have younger families now that don't remember those events," he said.
"However we always do remember, particularly at this time of year and on Remembrance Sunday we remember those who gave their lives for the rest of us on that particular Sunday evening. We haven't forgotten about those who died and their families, they are very much in our thoughts at this time of year.
"Some of the families affected moved away; one of the widows has since died, but the other two widows attend the church regularly although they are not in the immediate vicinity any longer, they still do attend and we still keep a relationship with them."
Campaign group Innocent Victims United also expressed its solidarity with the Sutherland Springs community.
Spokesman Kenny Donaldson said there was special significance for those in Northern Ireland, because of the Darkley shootings.
"This was a brutal attack upon a group of defenceless God fearing and God loving people," he said.
"In Northern Ireland there is special significance because in this place we had our own massacre.
"On November 20, 1983, INLA terrorists attacked a church service at Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church near Darkley in the heart of south Armagh.
"Three members of the church were shot dead as they stood outside the entrance - their crime was being Christian and Protestant. Seven others were injured in the premeditated, sectarian attack.
"The world should continue to feel revulsion at what happened in Darkley, which was a horrific crime against a Christian and peace loving Church community.
"The events in Sutherland Springs, Texas, will be weighing on the hearts and minds of those caught up in Darkley and their surviving families; our prayers are also with those so affected."