Mass Shooting in Texas Church, 26 Dead

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On November 5, 2017, a mass shooting took place at the First Baptist Church in the unincorporated community of Sutherland Springs, Texas, about 35 miles (56 km) east of the city of San Antonio. Devin Patrick Kelley killed 26 people and injured 20. It is the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in Texas, as well as the deadliest shooting in an American place of worship, surpassing the Charleston church shooting of 2015 and the Waddell, Arizona Buddhist temple shooting of 1991.

Shooting

At approximately 11:20 a.m. CST, Devin Patrick Kelley, wearing black tactical gear including a ballistic vest and wielding a semi-automatic rifle, exited from a vehicle at a gas station across the street from the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, and immediately fired in the direction of the church. After crossing the street, he approached the building from the right while firing, and continued to fire while entering the church building with worshipers attending regular Sunday service. He used a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle according to law enforcement officials. “Semi-automatic gunfire” was heard by a witness. According to police, the shooting was captured on a camera set up at the back of the church to record regular service for an upload online.

As Kelley left the Baptist church, a local resident armed with a rifle shot at him, and may have injured him. Kelley dropped his rifle and fled in his car. The resident flagged down a car driving by, and the driver and resident pursued him at high speed for about five to seven minutes. Kelley lost control of his car and drove off the road in neighboring Guadalupe County, near the city of New Berlin. He was observed to be motionless by the two men in pursuit. According to one of them, police took over the scene when they arrived. Kelley was found dead by police in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents from nearby San Antonio, along with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), attended. Freeman Martin, regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooting was sparked by a familial situation, and not terrorism or a racially motivated attack.

Victims

The Sunday church service is usually attended by approximately 50 people. During the shooting, 26 people were killed and 20 others were injured. Among the casualties, 23 died inside the church, two outside, and one in a hospital. The ages of the dead ranged from 18 months to 77 years old. Several children were killed, one of them the 14-year-old daughter of church pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was not at the church at the time. A pregnant woman was killed, as was the visiting pastor. Eight of the victims were from the same family, that of visiting pastor Bryan Holcombe.

The victims were taken to Connally Memorial Medical Center in Floresville, University Hospital in San Antonio, and Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston.

Perpetrator

Devin Patrick Kelley
Born February 21, 1991
Died November 5, 2017(aged 26)
New Berlin, Texas
Cause of death Self-inflicted gunshot wound
Residence New Braunfels, Texas
Occupation Security guard (2017)
Employer Schlitterbahn (2017)
Military career
Service/branch  United States Air Force
Years of service 2009–2014

The perpetrator was identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley. He was formerly a U.S. Air Force member who served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2009 until 2014. In 2012, he was court-martialed on two counts of Article 128 UCMJ, for assaulting his wife and her child. He was sentenced to 12 months of confinement and a reduction to the lowest service pay grade of E-1. In 2014, he was dismissed with a bad conduct discharge.

Kelley lived in New Braunfels, about 35 miles (56 km) from Sutherland Springs. He married in April 2011, and divorced in October 2012. He married again on April 4, 2014, to Danielle Lee Shields, who taught Sunday School at the church. His mother-in-law has a Sutherland Springs mailing address, and is a parishioner at the First Baptist Church but was not there that day. He threatened her in text messages. His wife’s grandmother, Lula Woicinski White, was killed by him during the attack. On August 1, 2014, according to criminal records, he was cited for misdemeanor cruelty to animals in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after tackling, mounting, repeatedly punching, throwing and dragging his malnourished dog.

According to several news outlets, people who knew Kelley said he was constantly “trying to preach his atheism” and describing people who believe in God as “stupid”. He started posting about atheism online after giving up taking part in summer Bible classes.

According to several media reports, Kelley had worked at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort in New Braunfels, and was licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety as a security guard.

On October 29, a week before the shooting, Kelley posted a photo of an AR-pattern rifle on his Facebook profile.

Ability to purchase and carry firearm

Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated that Kelley was previously denied a license to carry a handgun by the state of Texas. However, Kelley purchased the semi-automatic rifle used in the crime from an Academy Sports & Outdoors store in San Antonio in April 2016. The purchase of rifles does not require a license, but an FBI National Instant Background Check System (NICS) check is mandatory at the time of purchase.

When purchasing the rifle, Kelley filled out the required ATF Form 4473 and indicated that he did not have any disqualifying criminal history, which was not accurate. Kelley’s general court-martial convictions for domestic violence should have been flagged in the National Criminal Information Check (NCIC) database used by NICS and prevented a purchase; however, the U.S. Air Force failed to properly record these convictions. The Air Force issued this statement:

The Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction….Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction.

Reactions

United States President Donald Trump was in Japan at the time of the attack; he tweeted: “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.” At a press conference, he said “I think that mental health is a problem here. Based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a very long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation”. He continued, “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirmed the death toll, and stated that the event was the worst mass shooting in the history of Texas. “This will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain,” he said at a news conference on the day of the shooting. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton proposed that churches employ professional armed security guards, or at least arm more parishioners, to counter church shootings, which he said have happened “forever” and will again.

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