When a shooter started spraying the inside of a Sutherland Springs, Texas church with bullets on Sunday, 30-year-old Joann Ward “threw her body over the little ones,” according to her mother-in-law, Sandy Ward.
The “little ones” who were at church that day were Joann Ward’s daughters Emily Garza, 7 and Brooke Ward, 5 and stepson Ryland Ward, 5.
Joann Ward, Emily and Brooke died; Ryland was shot several times and is in the hospital. Joann’s older daughter, Rhianna Garza, survived unharmed.
The children’s grandmother, Sandy Ward, lost three family members. She was not at the church that day but is one of many in the small town who are grieving multiple family members killed or injured in the attack. Her grandchildren were two of the eight children who died. The full list of victims is here.
Sandy Ward describes Brooke as “a sweet girl.”
“When they sing at church, she would get out in the aisle and do her ballet. Because she wanted to be a ballerina. … She was pretty good for a five-year-old with no training,” she says with a laugh.
Emily “was just very helpful to everybody and sweet, always laughing,” she says. “I never saw that kid mad, throwing a fit. She was always laughing and joking.”
“It’s a shame,” she says, “I’ve been trying not to think about it.”
Ward describes five-year-old Ryland, who just started kindergarten and is now in the hospital, as “full of spit and vinegar … always running around and into everything, couldn’t sit still.”
“He’s just a little boy,” Sandy Ward says.
She says Rihanna, who survived uninjured, is “doing pretty good.”
“When they told her about her sister Emily, the first one we found out that didn’t make it, she looked at me, she said, ‘well at least Emily’s in heaven now.'”
Chris Ward, Sandy Ward’s son and Joann’s husband, had stayed home because he worked the night shift, according to the Dallas Morning News. He ran toward the church, leaving his shoes behind, as soon as he heard about the shooting.
According to grandmother Sandy Ward, who wasn’t at the church, Chris “went in looking, he went into the church, which I don’t think he should have ever done, looking for his wife and kids.”
“And then he saw how bad everything was, and he didn’t need that.”
Five-year-old Ryland’s uncle Michael Ward reportedly carried Ryland, who was wounded, out of the church.
Rhianna Garza, Joann’s older daughter, was fired at but not injured, Ward said. The shooter apparently “somehow shot her glasses off her face and she was not injured.” She then hid in a pew and survived, Ward believes because the shooter “probably thought he’d hit her.”
Mom Joann Ward would “help anybody with anything,” Sandy Ward says — from dog rescues to throwing barbecues to help people in need.
Sandy Ward says the thing that’s hit her now is that her daughter-in-law Joann’s body wasn’t identified until early Monday morning because she was so badly injured. She was finally identified through tattoos on her body.
The childrens’ uncle Michael Ward, who also went to the church after the shooting, told Sandy that first responders were having to move bodies to look for living people.
Sandy Ward was told that when Joann was found, she was holding 5-year-old Brooke.
She says her son Chris, who lost his wife and two kids, told her he’s not going back again to their house. “I can’t say I blame him,” she says, “because when I went to get the clothes yesterday, that’s when it really hit me. Because you see Joann’s clothes and Brooke’s clothes and Emily’s clothes. Just even their everyday clothes, and you realize, they’re not going to need them anymore.”
Through tears, Sandy Ward says the family’s deaths haven’t hit her own 7-year-old daughter yet. She shares a birthday with 7-year-old Emily, who died. Sandy Ward and her family lived walking distance from her son and daughter-in-law and were “always over there.” But now, “there’s nobody there anymore. There’s nobody there. She doesn’t realize it.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when she wants to go there and go play.”