SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The man who killed more than 20 people at a Texas church shooting massacre in 2017 had threatened violence years earlier and was “completely obsessed with mass shootings,” according to federal court documents.
Devin Kelley killed 26 people and wounded 20 others on Nov. 5, 2017, during a Sunday service at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas. Kelley, who was in the U.S. Air Force until 2014, fatally shot himself in a car while fleeing the crime scene.
In new court filings, several families of the shooting victims are continuing to sue the federal government, alleging negligence in failing to report Kelley’s criminal history and fingerprints to an FBI database used to approve gun buyers.
Kelley was discharged from the Air Force in 2014 for bad conduct after he was convicted of beating his then-wife and assaulting his stepson. In 2012, Kelley also escaped a mental health facility he was admitted into after threatening to kill his bosses.
Kelley’s conviction should have prevented him from buying guns, but the Air Force said it never reported it to the FBI. He was allowed to pass background checks and purchase the firearm used in the massacre.
Court filings say inadequate training led to the failure in reporting to the FBI. A colonel who’s in charge of the region testified that it wasn’t until after the shooting that he learned fingerprints and felony convictions must be reported to the FBI, according to the filing.
Kelley is one of more than 7,000 airmen between 1998 and 2017 whose criminal histories the Air Force failed to report to the FBI database, according to government documents submitted with the filing.
The government tried to get the case dismissed, and an Air Force spokesperson wouldn’t comment on the case because it’s still ongoing.
Jamal Alsaffar, an attorney for several of the families, also declined to comment.
After the 2015 mass church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that was carried out by a white supremacist who killed nine Black church members, Kelly told his former staff sergeant, “I wish I had the nerve to do it,” according to testimony from the sergeant, Jessika Lee Edwards, in an FBI report.
“Kelley also sent Edwards pictures of multiple guns he was building, specifically an AR-15 style rifle. Edwards told Kelley to get help once she realized he was completely obsessed with mass shootings,” the FBI report reads.
The FBI report is part of court filings earlier this month in the lawsuit the victims’ families have filed against the Air Force and U.S. Department of Defense.
Air Force officials knew of Kelley’s documented history of behavioral issues, court filings say.
“Kelley has a history of severe mental health problems. He openly carried a firearm on Holloman AFB and placed a weapon to his wife’s head. He has repeatedly threatened to kill his leadership,” said Commander Robert Bearden in an Air Force report in late March 2020.
Still, the government said in the new filing that Kelley could have accessed a firearm in other ways that don’t require a background check.
“The mass shooting was clearly a premeditated act that could not have been prevented by simply blocking Kelley’s ability to acquire firearms through one avenue,” the filing said.