Mystery shrouded the case of a McGregor man accused of killing five people Thursday on his block in McGregor, but hundreds of anguished residents of this town of 5,200 west of Waco gathered to comfort the orphaned survivors.
Law enforcement has released no names in the incident that involved two side-by-side homes. But family and friends who gathered for a church service Thursday said Lori Aviles, and her young adult daughter Natalie Aviles were among the fatalities in the shootings in the 900 block of South Monroe Avenue.
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McGregor Mayor Jimmy Hering said Thursday that the suspect was in police custody at local hospital after being wounded in an exchange of gunfire with McGregor Police.
Hering said McGregor Police received a call around 7:35 a.m. of shots fired in the neighborhood. When responding officers arrived, the suspect discharged his firearm and officers returned fire, Hering stated.
“This terrible and senseless act of violence has devastated our town,” he stated. “While the families are being notified of the details, we ask that you keep them, the officers and the community of McGregor in your thoughts and prayers. We will keep the public informed as investigative facts are confirmed.”
Texas Rangers are investigating the incident, at the request of McGregor Police, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Ryan Howard said in an afternoon news conference.
“It’s over, but we want successful healing of the community,” he said. “This is not something I looked forward to when I came to work this morning. It’s one of those things we wish would never happen.”
By early evening, Bethlehem Christian Church in McGregor had organized an impromptu service to support Ezra and Zion Aviles, the surviving teen sons of Lori Aviles.
The boys were greeted by members of the church they have long attended, and where their late father, Mike Aviles, had been youth pastor. Supporters remembered their mother and sister and assured the survivors they are not alone. The congregation also prayed for the loved ones of the other three people who died in the shooting, whose names had not yet been released.
McGregor Independent School District received notice of a dangerous incident at 8:01 a.m. and immediately went into a lockdown until the warning was lifted at 8:12 a.m.
The school canceled all activities Thursday, including a junior high pep rally and football games.
Students were getting counseling Thursday by professionals from McGregor ISD, Region 12, China Spring and Waco ISDs, the Klaras Center and the McGregor Ministerial Alliance, Superintendent James Lenamon said. The counselors are set to return Friday.
“The mental and physical well-being of our staff and students is our priority, and we’re going to be here in the days and weeks ahead for our kids,” Lenamon said in an interview.
Thursday afternoon, officials were going in and out of two side-by-side frame homes across South Monroe Avenue from a brick public housing complex.
Area police officers, sheriff’s deputies, constables, Texas Rangers and Waco Police Crime Scene Unit technicians were on the scene, and officials set up a tent to shield the view while a gurney was brought inside.
Judy Lockamy has lived across the street for nine years from the two houses. The families in both houses have been living there since before she moved in, she said. She said both households were “quiet and kept to themselves.”
The service at Bethlehem Christian Church Thursday evening packed more than 300 people, some sitting, some standing.
Pastors Lionel Aviles and Santos Aviles are in-laws to Lori Aviles and grandparents to Natalie Aviles and acknowledged they needed to grieve themselves. Pat Riley, who leads a bilingual ministry in Waco called Ministerios Bethania Waco, also led the Thursday service.
“I was Lori’s youth pastor,” Riley said. “I knew Lori and her husband Mike — Mike went home to be with the Lord two years ago. I knew them when they were dating.”
Riley told a story about taking Mike and Lori to a youth convention. During a particularly inspired moment, Lori motioned him over.
“I thought she was going to tell me something special about Jesus,” Riley said. “But she didn’t. She told me Mike is here. Lori loved Jesus with all her mind and soul, but she loved Mike with all her heart.”
Mike Aviles’ sister, Renee Flores, opened and closed the service and she also remembered her sister-in-law, her niece and her nephews.
Flores said after the service, “Let their lights shine. Let everyone know how special Lori and Natalie were. Lori was amazing and Natalie had her whole life in front of her. And this church family will let Ezra and Zion know that they are loved.”
Aaron Olvera, who works in the sound booth in the back of the church, recalled traveling to Disney World last year with Lori Aviles’ family.
“Zion and Ezra are like my brothers and Natalie was like my sister,” Olvera said. “But on that trip I got to know Lori, not just as a leader and a woman of God, but as my friend. And then, this afternoon, when I sat down behind that computer and I didn’t know what to do without Natalie.”