How Did the Texas Church Shooter Get His Guns After a Court-Martial for Domestic Assault?
Authorities are trying to determine how Devin Patrick Kelley, despite being convicted of assault in a military court, was able to obtain a firearm
Authorities are trying to determine how 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, despite being convicted of domestic assault in a military court, was able to obtain multiple guns before he opened fire on a rural Texas church on Sunday morning, a federal official tells PEOPLE.
“A lot of questions remain unanswered,” says the official, who has direct knowledge of the investigation into the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that killed 26.
The official is not authorized to communicate with the press and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
High on investigators’ agenda, the official says, is to confirm how Kelley could buy firearms despite having been convicted while in the Air Force of assaulting his wife and child.
Investigators are checking to see whether information from the 2012 court martial against Kelley, who was discharged for bad conduct in 2014, was fully transmitted to civilian databases, the federal official says.
The New York Times reports that the Air Forcedid not enter Kelley’s court martial into a federal database used for background checks that could have precluded him from getting weapons. (The Air Force did not respond to an email from PEOPLE asking whether criminal convictions of their personnel are routinely shared with all pertinent civilian agencies.)
In a statement, according to the Times, the Air Force said it “has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P. Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction.”
“Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction,” the Air Force said.
According to authorities, Kelley used an assault rifle in Sunday’s attack and other guns were found in his vehicle. Fifteen spent magazines were at the crime scene.
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Kelley purchased two weapons legally from a Texas sporting goods store.
“Based on information we received from law enforcement, we confirmed that the suspect purchased two firearms from two San Antonio locations, one in 2016 and one in 2017,” a representative of Academy Sports + Outdoors said in a statement to PEOPLE.
“We also confirmed that both sales were approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS),” the company said. “We are cooperating with law enforcement as they investigate further.”
“Academy Sports + Outdoors sends our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and the entire Sutherland Springs community,” the statement continued.
It appears Kelley also lied while filling out his paperwork for those gun purchases. A standard federal form for such transactions asks if you have a conviction for domestic violence. If Kelley had answered correctly, he could not have been allowed to buy a gun.
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Kelley was found dead shortly after fleeing from the scene of his rampage.
Authorities said Monday they believe he was motivated, in part, by a domestic dispute and had been threatening his mother-in-law, who attended First Baptist in Sutherland Springs.
Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence, tells PEOPLE Kelley’s example highlights the importance of “keeping people who have a propensity for violence, putting their names in the systems and making sure they don’t have access to guns.”
Citing the gunman’s history of domestic violence, Brown says, “All readers should ask themselves the question whether someone like that should have easy access to guns.”
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“As Americans we have to look at what’s happening and whether this is the kind of country we want to live in,” Brown says, “where individuals put themselves at risk of being shot going to church, going to concerts, going to school, going to the movies — routine, everyday activities. We need to demand change, and we can do it.”
In its statement, the Air Force noted “the service will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly.”
Video Evidence Under Review
Speaking more broadly about the investigation, the federal official tells PEOPLE that video evidence from inside the church is “vital.”
However, the official would not comment on whether this was video recorded by the church or came from parishioners’ cell phone cameras.
• With reporting by JEFF TRUESDELL