Ed. Note: On Nov. 28, Joe Holcombe and his wife, Claryce, who lost eight family members in the church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as well as the unborn child of one of them, filed a lawsuit against the United States government, claiming negligence.
The suit states that the Air Force failed to enter shooter Devan Patrick Kelley’s name in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database after he pleaded guilty to domestic assault five years ago. According to the suit, had the Air Force entered Kelley’s name into the database, he would not have been able to obtain firearms.
Here is PEOPLE’s initial story on the Holcombe family, originally published Nov. 6.
Bryan Holcombe was set to deliver Sunday’s sermon at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where he served as an associate pastor.
In attendance that morning were many members of his family, including his wife, Karla, his sons John and Marc and Marc’s toddler daughter, Noah, as well as Bryan’s daughter-in-law Crystal and her five children.
And then a gunman, dressed all in black and armed with an assault rifle, opened fire on the worshipers about 11:15 a.m., reportedly during Bryan’s sermon.
At least 26 people were killed in the attack, including eight members of the Holcombe family: Bryan, Crystal, Karla, Marc, Noah and three of Crystal’s kids, Greg, Emily and Megan.
Crystal was pregnant at the time of her death, according to Holcombe family patriarch Joe Holcombe, who is Bryan’s father. The eight deaths were also confirmed by multiple online fundraisers set up to support the surviving relatives.
“I’m dumbfounded,” Bryan’s son Scott Holcombe told the New York Times on Sunday after learning of his parents’ deaths. “This is unimaginable. My father was a good man and he loved to preach. He had a good heart.”
Scott’s sister Sarah Slavin told the paper of their parents, “They weren’t afraid of death. They had a strong faith, so there’s comfort in that. I feel like my parents, especially my mom, [weren’t] scared.”
Speaking to PEOPLE from nearby Floresville, Texas, Joe Holcombe echoed Slavin’s sentiment. Of Bryan, he says, “He’s a Christian so we know he’s in Heaven. It’s not as hard on us, because we know we’ll be together again and it will be for a long time this time.”
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Joe, an 86-year-old retired educator, provided brief background for some of his slain relatives, describing Bryan and Karla as high-school sweethearts and spouses of approximately 40 years.
Joe says Bryan had a canvas shop and worked in a volunteer associate pastor role at First Baptist.
Others in the family also worked in the church as well as were members there: Crystal’s husband, John, was a Sunday school teacher and webmaster, according to a fundraiser set up by friend L. David Givler. Karla, Bryan’s wife, worked as the assistant church secretary and also taught Sunday school, Joe says.
“She was wonderful. She ran around all day, most every day helping people that needed help,” Joe says. “If we needed to go somewhere, she’d take us. She was just a very helpful, very serving person.”
Joe says his grandson Marc — who went by “Danny” — lived with him on the family farm in Floresville, though he had his own home there. Marc could “make anything out of nothing,” Joe says, describing him as a “self-made engineer.”
Marc’s daughter, Noah, was his first child, Joe says. She was less than 2 years old.
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His wife, Jennifer, was also at the church during the shooting but survived, as did Crystal’s husband, John, and two of her children.
Theirs was a blended family, according to Joe and accounts of family friends: Crystal’s children were from her first marriage and she married again, to John, after her husband Peter’s death in 2011.
“John is an incredibly good guy,” Givler, his friend, wrote online. “He married [Crystal,] a widow with 5 children, took them as his own. Now, as he and Crystal were preparing to have their first together, this horrific murder took his wife and unborn child.”
Addressing how John is coping, Joe said he’s “not well but he’s in good health.”
Crystal was “wonderful,” he says.
“She was a beautiful, devoted mother, and she homeschooled all of her children,” Joe says.
Wrote Cristopher Foster, in a fundraiser set up on behalf of Bryan’s daughter Sarah Slavin, “This is one of the most [truly] loving and kind-hearted families in our nation.”