A Sutherland Springs resident armed with a gun confronted the gunman who killed 26 people in a Baptist church in South Texas and could have helped stop the massacre, authorities say.

Devin Patrick Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, dressed in full combat gear, and began shooting, according to local law enforcement sources.

Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, a suburb of San Antonio, died after a brief chase into Guadalupe County, according Guadalupe County Sheriff's Office spokesman Robert Murphy.

But it's still unclear if the gunman shot himself or was taken down by authorities.

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US officials said that as Kelley came out of the church where the horror shooting took place he was confronted by a local citizen who, armed with his own weapon, began firing at the gunman.

The return of fire prompted the suspect to flee in his vehicle.

Devin Kelley has been identified as the gunman.
Devin Kelley has been identified as the gunman.

"The local citizen pursued him," Freeman Martin, a regional director for the Texas Department of Public Service told the Washington Post.

Martin said Kelley crashed off of the roadway about 11 miles north of the shooting scene.

"We don't know if it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was shot by our local resident who engaged him in a gunfight."

Law enforcement officials works at the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Photo / AP
Law enforcement officials works at the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Photo / AP

Martin, told news outlet KSAT 12 that is was safe to say the neighbour who shot at and chased Kelley from the scene saved lives.

Two people were killed outside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs in Wilson County, about 65 kilometres east of San Antonio, around 11.20am on Sunday local time before the shooter entered the church and opened fire during a sermon.

Twenty three bodies were found inside the church and another died in hospital. Their ages ranged from five to 72.

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Twenty others have been taken to hospital with severe to minor injuries.

Wilson County Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr told CNN that at least the death toll is expected to climb.

"My heart is broken," Gamez said. "We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn't matter where you're at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, what can happen."

At least 24 others were injured in the horrific shooting, including a six-year-old boy - named only as Rylan - who was shot four times and is currently undergoing emergency surgery in hospital.

The 14-year-old daughter of pastor Frank Pomeroy was killed, the family told several television stations.

Jeff Forrest, a 36-year-old military veteran who lives a block away from the church, said what sounded like high-calibre, semi-automatic gunfire triggered memories of his four combat deployments with the Marine Corps.

"I was on the porch, I heard 10 rounds go off and then my ears just started ringing," Forrest said. "I hit the deck and I just lay there."

The massacre comes just weeks after a sniper killed 58 people at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. The shootings have stirred a years-long national debate over whether easy access to firearms was contributing to the trend.

US President Donald Trump said he was monitoring the situation while in Japan on a 12-day Asian trip and has described the shootings as an "act of evil" as victims and their families were at their place of "sacred worship".

"May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene," he said on Twitter.

Trump says he's has spoken with Governor Abbott and says the state of Texas has the administration's "full support".

- with Reuters