'The hardest story I've ever written': Journalist masterfully tells story of church gunman's wife

Want to read the best, most insightful coverage of the aftermath of last November's massacre at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas? 

Then you absolutely must follow the byline of San Antonio Express-News journalist Silvia Foster-Frau, who repeatedly has produced extraordinary journalism on this sad subject.

Just three past examples of her must-read reporting on Sutherland Springs:

• Her hopeful, sensitive, nuanced portrait of victims a month after the tragedy.

• Her poignant account of survivors attending National Day of Prayer events in Washington, D.C., in May.

• Her detail-laden profile, published in June, of the “good guy with a gun” who confronted the gunman outside the church. 

And now comes another masterpiece from Foster-Frau, this one from the front page of Sunday's Express-News and featuring her exclusive interviews with the troubled wife of the dead gunman:

How incredible was this latest story? Consider that at least two other major Texas papers — the Houston Chronicle (a sister publication of the Express-News) and the Dallas Morning News — both reprinted it on their front pages today:

The chilling opening scene recounts what happened at the home of Devin and Danielle Kelley on the morning of Nov. 5:

After breakfast they sat quietly on the couch while "Alaska State Troopers" played on TV. Danielle watched her husband closely. He seemed disengaged.
Devin stood up. He put Michael, their 2-year-old, in their bedroom. Raeleigh, their 5-month-old daughter, was already in her crib.
Then Devin forced his wife, screaming and crying in protest, into the bedroom.
Michael watched his father bind his mother into the bed with rope, handcuffs and duct tape.
The bedroom filled with the sound of Michael's wails.
Devin told Danielle he loved her. He kissed Raeleigh. And he said to Michael: "I'll be right back."
Strapped to the bed, Danielle watched Devin grab his Ruger AR-556 and two handguns. She saw him put on his military-style, tactical gear and a bulletproof vest.
"You get a sense of what's going to happen," Danielle said. "Because no one just leaves in all-black attire with a ballistic vest."

The story's jump took up two full pages inside Sunday's San Antonio paper, and not a word was wasted:

This factual narrative has so many layers — so many dark and tearjerking elements — but Foster-Frau handles the difficult storyline in a fair and compassionate way. 

"I think this is the hardest story I've ever written," she wrote on Twitter.

Fortunately for readers, the piece flows easily, as if Foster-Frau had no trouble writing it at all, which is the sign of pure writing genius.

Foster-Frau, by the way, is quick to give much credit to her editors:

The religion angle? Besides the obvious church connection, Foster-Frau offers readers important perspectives on both the gunman's lack of faith and the wife's rocky faith journey.

The crucial section concerning the husband:

When she could convince him to go to area churches, including the First Baptist in Sutherland Springs, he laughed during the sermons. Devin became an atheist.
He told Danielle that a God wouldn't let people like him and her go through such hardships. He resented God, and the world, for not protecting them from the world's cruelties.
"Devin was sick. He lost who he was. Because the real Devin would've never hurt babies. He was a family person. He would never have hurt anybody," Danielle said. "He lost the touch of reality."

And the crucial section concerning the wife:

Suicide was not far from Danielle's mind the first few months after the massacre.
"There were times when I didn't want to have to be here. I didn't want to be a single mom. I didn't want to have the label of my spouse being a mass murderer," she said. "It was a lot to bear, and I didn't want to have to do it."
She also began to doubt her belief in God.
"I was just like 'You let us fall.' And I felt alone. And then there's times where I don't even — I just, can't. People talk about God and I just can't stand it," she said.
But she has come to feel that she can't continue on the long road to recovery without the thought of God holding her hand.
Danielle has started going back to church in Sutherland Springs.
"It's difficult because it's not the same," she said. "I'm used to seeing Karla smiling, getting all excited. Or Lou, my grandmother, smiling and holding the babies, saying 'Oh come on, sit over here, I saved you a spot.'"

There is so much more that I could copy and paste. Instead, I'll urge you to click the link and read the story. Read it all.

In closing, here are some of the many notes of praise that the story has received — and rightfully so — on Twitter:

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