SUTHERLAND SPRINGS — Joann Ward loved children, but none more than her four kids: Rihanna, Emily, Brooke and Ryland.

She died shielding them from gunfire.

When Devin Patrick Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church here and began killing people with his military-style rifle, Joann Ward pushed Rihanna Ward, 9, to the floor.

Witnesses who survived the shooting said they saw Joann’s body on top of her kids, according to Joann’s niece Haley Martinez.

Rihanna told Joann’s friend Vonda Greek Smith that she “didn’t get shot because I was hiding, and Momma covered Emily, Ryland & Brooke,” Smith’s Facebook post states.

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“Knowing Joann, that’s something she would do,” Martinez said.

Emily Garcia, 7, and Brooke Ward, 5, both were killed Sunday. Ryland Ward, 5, remained in critical condition Monday night after being shot four times, according to Joann’s brother-in-law, Phillip Ward.

A bullet struck and ricocheted off Rihanna’s glasses, Martinez said. She survived the shooting with only a couple of burns from the bullet.

The death of Joann Ward, 30, and two of her daughters has stunned and devastated the tight-knit family, relatives said.

Joann’s husband, Chris, who stayed home Sunday morning, was at University Hospital with Ryland on Monday night. Early media reports mistakenly identified Chris as the shooter, further throwing the grieving family into disarray.

Family members described Joann Ward as someone whose life centered on family and children. She worked at a day care center in nearby La Vernia and loved going to church, attending every Sunday.

Joann’s “whole world,” Smith described on Facebook, was “her babies” — Rihanna, Emily, Brooke and Ryland.

“She was real outgoing, always respectful, always trying to do better for the community,” Phillip Ward said. “She was always involved.”

Martinez, 17, described her aunt as a “real country girl.” Joann liked riding horses and always wore her favorite cowboy boots, which Martinez described as “light brown tannish,” usually with a pair of ripped jeans.

She also loved her two dogs: a black Great Dane, Zena, and a yellow Labrador retriever, Bubbles. An April 2016 Facebook post shows Joann facing Zena, the dog’s two front paws perched on Joann’s shoulders as she leans in for a kiss.

Joann’s deep love of family extended to husband Chris, a relationship that never seemed to include fights, Martinez said.

“They were an amazing couple,” Martinez said. “They were so close and they loved each other with all their hearts. They had so much love for each other, it was crazy.”

Martinez, who lives in San Antonio, said she talked with her aunt almost every day, discussing everything from financial matters to upcoming weekend visits.

The two families — the Wards and the Martinezes — saw each other most weekends, Martinez said. They would switch off visits, with Haley’s family — mother and Joann’s sister, Mandy, her father Larry and her three siblings — sometimes driving to Sutherland Springs, or the Wards coming to San Antonio.

The families would barbecue at home and have picnics at the nearby duck pond in San Antonio’s Heritage neighborhood. Joann loved “any kind of burger,” Martinez said.

Joann’s children, including Brooke and Emily, enjoyed fishing, Phillip Ward said. The daughters “always had smiles on their faces, which made everyone else smile,” Martinez said. Brooke and Emily often asked to hang out with Martinez and her siblings.

“They were beautiful children. Just bright futures ahead of them,” said Kelly Carter, Phillip’s fiancee. She said her children have been devastated by the deaths of Brooke and Emily.

Martinez said Brooke and Emily loved “Frozen,” the animated Disney movie, and often would dress up as princesses like the characters in the film.

“They were so sweet,” Phillip Ward said. “They loved playing with other kids and they were real outgoing. They were real respectful, kind.”

Joann often would post photos of her kids on Facebook, sometimes decorating the photos with designs or “filters.” A September 2013 post shows a picture of Brooke in a car seat, her face decorated with fake sunglasses and a black top hat that reads “Love Bug.”

“At the moment, I don’t think anyone has actually accepted that they’re gone,” Martinez said. “It hasn’t hit us yet.”

Encapsulating her love of family and anything country-related, a March 2013 Facebook post about country singer George Strait’s music tour shows the dilemma Joann sometimes may have faced.

“I would love to to (sic) see him and dang near died trying to buy the tickets but i have four small children i cant just sit online or wait in line anywhere,” Joann wrote.

She chose her family, in 2013 and on Sunday at the First Baptist Church.

“Her whole life, it’s all about family,” Martinez said.

jscherer@express-news.net