Sutherland Springs church shooting

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Sutherland Springs church shooting
Coordinates 29°16′24″N 98°03′23″W / 29.2732°N 98.0564°W / 29.2732; -98.0564Coordinates: 29°16′24″N 98°03′23″W / 29.2732°N 98.0564°W / 29.2732; -98.0564
Attack type
Mass shooting
Weapon Ruger AR-556 rifle
Deaths 26
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrator Devin Patrick Kelley

On November 5, 2017, there was a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, about 30 miles (48 km) east of the city of San Antonio.[1] The gunman, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley of nearby New Braunfels, killed 26 and injured 20. He was shot twice by a local civilian who intervened as Kelley exited the church and fled in his vehicle. After a high-speed chase Kelley crashed and was found with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

It was the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in Texas,[2] as well as the deadliest shooting in an American Place of worship in modern history, surpassing the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting of 2015[3] and the Waddell, Arizona Buddhist temple shooting of 1991.[4]

Kelley was prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing firearms and ammunition due to his Domestic violence conviction in a Court-martial while in the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force failed to record the conviction in the FBI National Crime Information Center database. That database is used by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to flag prohibited purchases. The error prompted the Air Force to begin a review.[5]


At approximately 11:20 a.m. CST, Devin Patrick Kelley, exited from a vehicle at a gas station across the street from the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs wearing black tactical gear, a Ballistic vest and a black facemask featuring a white skull.[6] Wielding a Ruger AR-556 Semi-automatic rifle,[7][8][9] he immediately fired in the direction of the church.[10] 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.[11] Inside, he yelled, "Everybody dies motherfuckers," as he proceeded up and down the aisle and shot at people in the pews.[6][12] Kelley took 15 loaded magazines to the church.[13] According to police, the shooting was captured on a camera set up at the back of the church to record regular services for uploading online.[14]

As Kelley left the church, he was confronted by local resident and former NRA firearms instructor Stephen Willeford,[15] armed with an AR-15 pattern semi-automatic rifle. While taking cover behind a truck, Willeford shot Kelley twice.[16][17][18] After being shot, Kelley dropped his rifle and fled in his Ford Explorer as Willeford fired several rounds through the vehicle's window.[19][20] Willeford flagged down a passing pickup truck driven by Johnnie Langendorff, and they pursued Kelley at high speed for about five to seven minutes. According to Langendorff, they drove at speeds up to 95 miles per hour.[21] During the chase, Kelley called his father to tell him that he was injured and thought that he would not survive.[18] After losing control of his vehicle, Kelley crashed in neighboring Guadalupe County,[22] near the city of New Berlin.[23] He was observed to be motionless by the two men in pursuit, and police took over the scene when they arrived.[24] Police found Kelley dead in his car,[22] with three gunshot wounds, including a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.[25] Two handguns were found in the vehicle: a Glock 9 mm and a Ruger .22-caliber, both of which Kelley had purchased.[26]

The Texas Rangers are leading the investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) are assisting.[22] Investigators said the shooting was not racially or religiously motivated, but rather by a dispute with his mother-in-law.[27]


The attack occurred during the church's Sunday service.[11] Twenty-six people were killed and 20 others were injured.[7] Twenty-three died inside the church, two outside, and one in a hospital.[28] The ages of the dead ranged from unborn to 77 years old.[29] About half of the victims were children,[28] one of them the 14-year-old daughter of church pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was not at the church at the time.[11][22][30] Nine of those killed, including the visiting pastor Bryan Holcombe and his pregnant daughter-in-law, were from the same family.[29]

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.[1]


Devin Patrick Kelley
File:Devin Patrick Kelley.jpg
Kelley's driver's license photo; he was beardless at the time of the attack
Born (1991-02-21)February 21, 1991
Died November 5, 2017(2017-11-05) (aged 26)
New Berlin, Texas
Cause of death Self-inflicted gunshot wound
Residence New Braunfels, Texas
Education New Braunfels High School[31]
Occupation Security guard (2017)
Employer Summit Resort, New Braunfels[31]
Military career
Service/branch Air force
Years of service 2009–2014
Rank Airman basic

Devin Patrick Kelley (February 21, 1991 – November 5, 2017) was raised in New Braunfels, Texas, about 35 miles (56 km) from Sutherland Springs, and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating from New Braunfels High School.[11][31][32] One former high school classmate described him as "an outcast but not a loner" who was "popular among other outcasts." A person who was a close friend of Kelley's from middle school through high school recalled that “he wasn't always a ‘psychopath’ though" and that "over the years we all saw him change into something that he wasn't".[33] He served in Logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2009 until 2014. He married in April 2011, [34] and soon after, he was charged with assaulting his wife and fracturing his stepson's skull.[35] In response, Kelley made death threats against the superior officers who charged him, and he was caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force Base.[35] He was then admitted to Peak Behavioral Health Services, a Mental health facility in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.[35]

In June 2012, Kelley escaped from Peak Behavioral Health Services and was apprehended ten miles away at a nearby bus terminal in El Paso, Texas.[35][36] The facility's director of military affairs later recalled that Kelley had stayed at the facility for several weeks, until he was brought to court-martial. While there, he had expressed a desire for "some kind of retribution to his chain of command" and was discovered to have used computers to order "weapons and tactical gear to a P.O. box in San Antonio."[36] Kelley and his wife divorced in October 2012.[34]

In November 2012, Kelley was convicted by a general court-martial on two counts of Article 128 UCMJ, for the assault of his wife and stepson.[37][38] He was sentenced to 12 months of confinement and a Reduction in rank to the lowest grade of E-1. He appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, but was unsuccessful.[39] In 2014, he was dismissed with a bad conduct discharge.[23][40]

After his release, Kelley returned to New Braunfels, where he lived in a converted barn at his parents' home.[38] Shortly thereafter, he was investigated for sexual assault and rape, and for a physical assault of his then-girlfriend, although these investigations did not lead to charges.[38] On April 4, 2014, he married his then-girlfriend.[41] The couple moved into a mobile home in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he was charged in August 2014 for misdemeanor Cruelty to animals after beating his malnourished Husky.[42] He was given a Deferred sentence of probation and was ordered to pay restitution and other fees; the charge was dismissed in March 2016, after he completed the sentence.[38][42] In January 2015, a resident of El Paso County, Colorado received a Protection order against him.[41]

Kelley's estranged second wife sometimes attended First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs with her family.[38] Prior to the shooting, he sent threatening text messages to her mother.[18] His wife and her mother were not at the church when the attack occurred, but his wife's grandmother, Lula Woicinski White, was, and was killed.[18][43]

Kelley attended the First Baptist Church in Kingsville, Texas from May to June 2014 and volunteered as a helper for one day of Vacation Bible School.[44] After he stopped teaching Sunday classes, he deconverted to Atheism,[45][46][47][48] and began to spread atheism online.[46] According to multiple former high school classmates, he was constantly "trying to preach his atheism" and describing people who believe in God as "stupid", causing them to delete him as friend on Facebook for his unpleasant posts.[45][46][49][50]

At the time of the shooting, Kelley was again living at his parents' property in New Braunfels.[38] He was licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety as a security guard,[39][51] and was a security worker at the Summit Vacation and RV Resort in New Braunfels.[31] He had previously worked as an unarmed security guard at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort in New Braunfels, but was fired after less than six weeks on the job.[31]

Ability to purchase and carry firearms

Kelley purchased four guns at stores in Colorado and in Texas between 2014 and 2017.[52] On October 29, a week before the shooting, he posted a photo of an AR-pattern rifle on his Facebook profile.[53] An AR-pattern rifle was used in the attack, and two handguns were found in the shooter's vehicle.[54]

Kelley purchased the semi-automatic rifle used in the shooting from an Academy Sports + Outdoors store in San Antonio in April 2016.[55] He filled out the required ATF Form 4473 and indicated that he did not have a disqualifying criminal history.[56] An FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check is required at the time of purchase for all firearms except for purchasers with a valid license to carry a handgun.[56][57]

The State of Texas denied his application for a license to carry a handgun in public,[46][55] although a license is not required to purchase firearms under Texas state law.[52]

Federal law prohibits those convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms,[58][59] and Kelley's general court-martial convictions for domestic violence should have been flagged in the NICS database and prevented a purchase.[55][60]

However, the Air Force failed to relay the court-martial convictions to the FBI, saying in a statement, "Initial information indicates that Kelley's domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Crime Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations."[61][5] One day after the shooting, the Air Force said it had "launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction."[5][59]


The shooting brought attention to gaps in reporting to the federal background-check system intended to bar convicted domestic abusers, such as Kelley, from purchasing guns. Since 1996, the Lautenberg Amendment has prohibited the purchase of firearms to those convicted of domestic abuse offenses, even misdemeanors, but gaps in reporting continue to exist.[59]

United States President Donald Trump, in Japan at the time of the shooting, said at a press conference in Tokyo that "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" or "it would have been much worse".[62] Trump was asked about gun policy while visiting Seoul, South Korea. In response to a proposal for extreme vetting of gun ownership similar to Trump's own call for "extreme vetting" of immigrants, Trump claimed that this would have made "no difference" to whether the shooting would have been carried out. He suggested that stricter gun control measures might have prevented the local vigilante from shooting the killer, thus the outcome would have been worse: "Instead of having 26 dead, he would've had hundreds more dead."[63][64] Trump has issued a Presidential proclamation honoring the victims[65] and ordered the United States flag at half-staff at the White House and all public and military sites until sunset, November 9, 2017.[66]

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that the attack "will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain." 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.[67] Paxton was criticized by Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party's deputy executive director, and TV host Piers Morgan for suggesting parishioners take guns to church.[68][69]

Hoaxes and conspiracy theories

Fake news websites and Far-right activists published misleading stories and conspiracy stories about the incident.[70][71][72][73] They associated the shooter with a range of people and groups the far-right opposes[71] such as identifying the shooter as a Democrat or a radicalized Muslim,[72] or claiming he carried an Antifa flag and told churchgoers, "This is a communist revolution."[74][75][76] Some reports falsely claimed he targeted the church because they were "white conservatives".[71] The misinformation mirrored similar events in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting a few weeks earlier in which the perpetrator, Stephen Paddock, was falsely linked to Leftist and Islamist groups.[71]

Conspiracies circulated at the hospital where victims were being treated.[70] According to the Washington Post, a group of women who said they knew the victims were overheard discussing the massacre as a False flag operation designed to manipulate the public towards some nefarious ends.[70] When the Post reporter sought to inquire further, the women pushed the reporter away, saying "She [the reporter] is part of [the conspiracy]," after which the reporter was ejected from the hospital by police.[70]

See also


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External links