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A mother died after a gunman opened fire inside of a church in a small Texas town, but not before she thought to heroically shield her children.


Joann Ward was attending Sunday morning services with her four children at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs when Devin Kelley, 26, walked in and opened fire on parishioners. Ward passed away in the attack, as did two of her daughters, Brooke Ward, 5, and Emily Garza, 7. But one of her surviving children says she died a hero, reports the New York Post.

Rihanna Garza, 9, escaped the attack without injury, though a bullet struck her glasses, knocking them off of her face. Following the attack, she told family friend Vonda Greek Smith, “I didn’t get shot because I was hiding, and Mama covered Emily, Ryland and Brooke.”

One of the children, whom Rihanna said Joann covered during the attack, was 5-year-old Ryland Ward. The little boy is fighting for his life in the hospital after sustaining severe injuries in the attack. He is currently in stable condition following surgery to his groin, arm and stomach after sustaining at least four gunshot wounds.

“They got him all cut open, from the gunshots,” his uncle, Michael Ward, said after tearing up. “I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

According to Dallas News, Michael’s wife, Leslie Ward, woke him up after hearing shots ring out as she was setting up a yard sale. Their house is only a few blocks from the church. Word traveled quickly that there was a shooter inside of the church, prompting Michael and Leslie to rush over to the house of Chris Ward, Michael’s brother, when he didn’t answer their phone calls.

Chris stayed home that morning after working the night shift.

“He was pissed at me,” Michael recalled. When Chris thought he was lying, Michael said, “‘I’m not lying to you, Chris, they’re all shot.'”

The shooting took the lives of 26 people, including the daughter of the church’s pastor. The victims make up about 4 to 7 percent of the town’s population.

RELATED: Here’s what we know about the pregnant mom and her family who were gunned down in Texas

Zuri Davis About the author:
Zuri Davis is a media writer for Rare. Follow her on Twitter @RiEleDavis.
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