A couple who lost eight relatives in the Texas church massacre in Sutherland Springs has filed a civil lawsuit against the United States government, alleging the shooter should never have been able to purchase the guns he used to kill 26 people on Nov. 5.
PEOPLE confirms the filing, which states the Air Force failed to enter the killer’s name in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database after he pleaded guilty to domestic assault five years ago.
The shooter — 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley — served at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, working in logistics readiness.
He was stationed there from 2010 until he was discharged in 2014, following a 2012 court-martial after admitting to assaulting his spouse and their child, an Air Force spokeswoman previously told PEOPLE.
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Joe “Papa Joe” Holcombe and his wife, Claryce, have filed the lawsuit against the U.S. government, claiming negligence.
They lost their son, Bryan Holcombe, in the mass shooting. Also killed were Bryan’s wife, Karla, his son, Marc, and Marc’s toddler daughter, Noah, as well as Bryan’s daughter-in-law, Crystal, and three of Crystal’s kids from a prior marriage, Greg, Emily and Megan.
The suit says that if the Air Force had entered the shooter’s name in the database, it would have prevented the shooter from obtaining firearms.
“Under a 1996 law preventing spouse and child abusers from possessing firearms, the service’s Office of Special Investigations should have entered that conviction into an FBI database,” says the family’s lawyer, Rob Ammons, in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
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“The office didn’t, the Air Force has admitted,” the statement continues. “What’s more, the acts Kelley pleaded guilty to — breaking his baby stepson’s skull and hitting and kicking his then-wife — were punishable by imprisonment of more than a year. That qualifies them as felonies, which must be entered into the database.”
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The suit does not specify damages being sought, but the statement from Ammons says the Holcombes “are committed to making sure no other family has to suffer such a devastating preventable loss.”
According to the shooter’s 2012 court-martial plea bargain, obtained by PEOPLE, he had a charge for pointing an unloaded gun at his wife dismissed.
The Air Force spokeswoman told PEOPLE the shooter received a bad conduct discharge and 12 months’ confinement as well as a reduction in rank.
An Air Force spokeswoman tells PEOPLE the branch does not comment on pending litigation.