Family of a former local resident who attended Mineral Wells High School are grieving his death Sunday morning at the hands of a shooter inside a west Fort Worth church.
Anton "Tony" Wallace, 64, of Fort Worth, was killed along with Richard White, 67, of suburban River Oaks. Both were members of West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement. Wallace was a church deacon, and White was a member of the church's security team.
With some 240 people attending service, Wallace was helping serve communion when a man stood up, pulled out a shotgun and fired, striking Wallace and White. Within six seconds, according to reports, the head of the church's security team, Jack Wilson, a trained firearms expert, shot and killed the assailant.
Wallace's daughter, Tiffany Wallace, of Fort Worth, was attending service with her father.
"I ran toward my dad, and the last thing I remember is him asking for oxygen," she told Dallas TV station KXAS. "And I was just holding him, telling him I loved him and that he was going to make it."
Tony Wallace, who was a registered nurse, was rushed to a hospital but did not survive.
Lindsey Erin Wallace, formerly of Mineral Wells who now also resides in Fort Worth, called her uncle "an amazing husband, father, papa, brother and uncle."
She told the Index the shooting and death of her uncle "truly rocked our families worlds yesterday." She said Tony Wallace was more like a father to her than an uncle, and her nieces, Tiffany and Sarah, were like sisters.
"We are a huge sports family so he was that amazing supportive grandpa and uncle," Lindsey Erin Wallace said. "He was there for me growing up when my dad was in and out of prison. He was there. My uncle Tony would get me on weekends when I was younger and I would stay with him, my aunt Julie and my cousins until Sunday when they came to Mineral Wells to church, which to this day he still did monthly."
Wallace said her family grew up attending Sixth Avenue Church of Christ in Mineral Wells. She said Tony Wallace and the family was raised by her grandfather and grandmother, Sgt. Casper Wallace and Mildred Wallace, to be in church every Sunday morning, Sunday evening and again on Wednesday evening.
She said Tony Wallace started serving, leading song worship and teaching classes in the local church, which eventually led him to give his first sermon. Being a military family, she said they were very structured, and were taught to keep themselves and their rooms clean and to say a blessing before every meal.
Lindsey Wallace said her uncle "loved me, he protected me, he included me, he treated me as I was his own, he was always there. He was an amazing man of God and servant and he died serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He literally walked in those shoes daily and followed the Lord. He didn’t cuss, he didn’t really raise his voice, he always tried to be the calm solver. He was an amazing husband and father and he took care of his family."
She said Tony Wallace was also an excellent nurse who was "loved and respected by so many other nurses, doctors and other medical field colleagues that he worked with throughout all of the years him being a nurse."
By coincidence, the first Fort Worth police officer on the scene was former Mineral Wells resident John Banner, a grandson of Raf and Sue Seibert, and who attended Mineral Wells High School with Lindsey Wallace. She said Officer Banner sent her a message Monday morning.
"His words made me break down with sadness but with also some relief," Wallace said. "He said, 'I want you to know that your uncle was a hero; I never heard him complain once. Mr. Wallace had an amazing resilience and steadfastness while I was on scene with him and the others. I was so impressed by how he handled what that scumbag did. The worthless human failed at trying to make your uncle a scared victim. The lowlife will be forgotten, your Uncle Tony will never be forgotten.'”
Lindsey Wallace said those words from a friend who was with at her uncle's side affirmed what she said she already knew about Tony Wallace. "He was one of a kind," Wallace said.
Police have not identified the shooter or a motive, which remains under investigation. Some churchgoers said they did not recognize the man. A lady sitting near him said he appeared to be in disguise, including possibly wearing a fake beard.
The service was being broadcast live over the Internet when the shooting began.
Wilson lives in Granbury and is a Republican candidate for Hood County Commissioner for Precinct 3, the same seat being sought by State Rep. Mike Lang, who resigned his House seat to run for county commissioner there.
Wilson rose and fired a single shot, quickly ending the attack. Wilson's Facebook bio list him as a former Hood County reserve deputy and a firearms instructor.
He posted about the attack a few hours after it happened, saying the event "put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in. But evil exists, and I had to take out an active shooter in church. I'm thankful to GOD that I have been blessed with the ability and desire to serve him in the role of head of security at the church."
Speaking outside the church, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said authorities "can't prevent mental illness from occurring, and we can't prevent every crazy person from pulling a gun. But we can be prepared like this church was."
Paxton joined other Texas officials in hailing the state's gun laws, which allow weapons in places of worship. He said the church's security team was formally organized after a measure was enacted this year that affirmed the right of licensed handgun holders to carry a weapon in places of worship, unless the facility bans them.
"The big emphasis came after they realized they are able to protect themselves," Paxton said.
That law was passed in the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history, which was also at a church. In the 2017 massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, a man who opened fire on a Sunday morning congregation killed more than two dozen people. He later killed himself.
In another attack in Texas in 1999, a gunman killed seven people in Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth before detonating an explosive device and killing himself.
Tragic morning in White Settlement, where a gunman shoots up West Freeway Church of Christ. Reported that two are dead (including shooter), and another in critical condition. Also reports that gun-carrying church-goers shot the initial shooter. More on @WBAP247NEWS @570KLIF pic.twitter.com/dvh5LCTCev— Scott Sidway (@ScottyWK) December 29, 2019
In the livestream of Sunday's church service in White Settlement, the gunman can be seen getting up from a pew and talking to someone at the back of the church before pulling out a gun and opening fire. Congregants can be heard screaming and seen ducking under pews or running as papers fly to the floor.
"I think you can see by the video, that that guy was surrounded rather quickly by more than just a few people," Paxton said.
Prior to the shooting, the gunman had drawn the attention of the church's security team because he was "acting suspiciously," minister Jack Cummings told The New York Times. He said the team is composed of congregants who are licensed to carry guns and practice shooting regularly.
Cummings said the church added the team because of "the fact that people go into schools and shoot people."
White's daughter-in-law, Misty York White, called him a hero on Facebook: "You stood up against evil and sacrificed your life. Many lives were saved because of your actions. You have always been a hero to us but the whole world is seeing you as a hero now. We love you, we miss you, we are heartbroken."
Britt Farmer, senior minister of the church, said, "We lost two great men today, but it could have been a lot worse."
Matthew DeSarno, the agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas office, said the assailant was "relatively transient" but had roots in the area.
Paxton said Monday that the shooter appeared to be "more of a loner." "I don't think he had a lot of connections to very many people," he said.
DeSarno also said the gunman had been arrested multiple times in the past but declined to give details.
Church officials planned to make a statement Monday evening following a closed meeting and prayer vigil just for church members, Farmer said.
White Settlement's website says it was named by local Native Americans in the 1800s for white families then settling in the area. City leaders who worried that the name detracted from the city's image proposed renaming it in 2005, but voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea.