SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — The gunman who killed 26 people at a small-town Texas church had a history of domestic violence and sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, a member of First Baptist, before the attack, authorities said Monday.
A day after the deadliest mass shooting in state history, the military acknowledged that it did not submit the shooter’s criminal history to the FBI, as required by the Pentagon. If his past offenses had been properly shared, they would have prevented him from buying a gun.
Investigators also revealed that sheriff’s deputies had responded to a domestic violence call in 2014 at Devin Patrick Kelley’s home involving a girlfriend who became his second wife. Later that year, he was formally ousted from the Air Force for a 2012 assault on his ex-wife in which he choked her and struck her son hard enough to fracture his skull.
In Sutherland Springs, population 400, grieving townspeople were reeling from their losses. The dead ranged from 18 months to 77 years old and included multiple members of some families.
“Our church was not comprised of members or parishioners. We were a very close family,” said Sherri Pomeroy, the wife of the church pastor, who was out of town with her husband when the attack happened. “Now most of our church family is gone.”
The couple’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy, was among those killed.
Kelley’s mother-in-law sometimes attended services there, but the sheriff said she was not at church Sunday.
The massacre appeared to stem from a domestic situation and was not racially or religiously motivated, Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin said. He did not elaborate.
Based on evidence at the scene, investigators believe Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was chased by bystanders, one of whom was armed, and crashed his car.
The 26-year-old shooter also used his cellphone to tell his father he had been shot and did not think he would survive, authorities said.
While in the military, Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his 2014 discharge, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
He was discharged for the assault involving his previous wife and her child and had served a year of confinement after a court-martial. Under Pentagon rules, information about convictions of military personnel for crimes such as assault should be submitted to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Investigation Services Division.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the service is launching a review of its handling of the case and taking a comprehensive look at its databases to ensure other cases have been reported correctly.
Once the shooting started, there was probably “no way” for congregants to escape, Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said.
Kelley fired an assault rifle as he walked down the center aisle during worship services. He turned around and continued shooting on his way out of the building, Tackitt said.
About 20 other people were wounded. Ten of them were still hospitalized Monday in critical condition.
Investigators collected hundreds of shell casings from the church, along with 15 empty magazines that held 30 rounds each.
Kelley lived in New Braunfels, about 35 miles north of the church, authorities said.
On Sunday, he pulled into a gas station across from the church. He crossed the street and started firing the rifle at the church, then continued firing after entering the building, Martin said.
As he left, the he was confronted by an armed resident who had grabbed his own rifle and exchanged fire with Kelley.
The armed man who confronted Kelley had help from another local resident, Johnnie Langendorff, who said he was driving past the church as the shooting happened. The armed man asked to get in Langendorff’s truck, and the pair followed as the gunman drove away.
“He jumped in my truck and said, ‘He just shot up the church. We need to go get him.’ And I said ‘Let’s go,'” Langendorff said.
The pursuit reached speeds up to 90 mph. The gunman eventually lost control of his vehicle and crashed. The armed man walked up to the vehicle with his gun drawn, and the attacker did not move. Police arrived about five minutes later, Langendorff said.
The assailant was dead in his vehicle. He had three gunshot wounds — two from where the armed man hit him in the leg and the torso and the third self-inflicted wound to the head, authorities said.
“There was no thinking about it. There was just doing. That was the key to all this. Act now. Ask questions later,” Langendorff said.
Three weapons were recovered. A Ruger AR-556 rifle was found at the church, and two handguns were recovered from the gunman’s vehicle, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The assailant did not have a license to carry a concealed handgun, Martin said.
Associated Press writers John Mone, Nomaan Merchant and Diana Heidgerd in Dallas contributed to this report.