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Monday 24 September 2018

Sutherland Springs massacre: Texas church gunman had row with his mother-in-law

Thirteen children among 26 murdered during rampage

Local resident Jamie Rose is hugged by church member Raymond Antonio as she delivers flowers to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Local resident Jamie Rose is hugged by church member Raymond Antonio as she delivers flowers to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Harriet Alexander and Joseph Ax

A gunman murdered 26 people inside a Texas church after a row with his mother-in-law, it emerged last night.

Texans were left wondering how 26-year-old Devin Kelley was able to carry out the worst mass-shooting in the state's history when he was not permitted to own a gun.

Kelley, who had been dishonourably discharged from the air force in 2012, tried to get a licence to carry a gun in Texas, but the state denied him, said Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas.

"So how was it that he was able to get a gun?" asked Mr Abbott. "By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun. So how did this happen?"

Officials said that Kelley was jailed for a year in 2012, and then dishonourably discharged for spousal and child assault. That would, in theory, have made him ineligible to carry a firearm. Questions were last night being asked as to whether the discharge was correctly recorded.

"In general, if an individual has a dishonourable discharge from the military, they would be precluded from buying a firearm," said Fed Milanowski, of the bureau of alcohol, firearms, tobacco and explosives.

Gunman Devin Kelley killed himself after the church attack. Photo: Texas Department of Public Safety via AP
Gunman Devin Kelley killed himself after the church attack. Photo: Texas Department of Public Safety via AP

Kelley reportedly lied about his assault conviction when he filled out the required background check paperwork to buy a Ruger assault rifle in April 2016 at a gun and sporting goods shop in San Antonio, police said.

They said he owned four firearms, bought over four years in both Colorado and Texas.

It also emerged yesterday that he had been involved in an altercation with his mother-in-law. Freeman Martin, of the Texas department of public safety, said there was "a domestic situation going on in this family".

"The suspect's mother-in-law attended this church," he said, although she and her family were not in church on Sunday.

She had received "threatening texts from him", said Mr Martin, who did not identify the woman or elaborate on the content of the messages.

Kelley had divorced his first wife, Tessa, in 2012 after his jail sentence. He remarried in 2014.

"We know he expressed anger towards his mother-in-law," said Mr Martin, without clarifying which mother-in-law he meant.

Dressed in black tactical gear, and a face mask with skull symbol on it, Kelley opened fire just after 11am on Sunday outside the church and then barged inside and began spraying the sanctuary with bullets.

First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri. Their 14-year-old daughter was among the 26 killed. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri. Their 14-year-old daughter was among the 26 killed. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

His youngest victim was 18 months old; his oldest was 77. Half of the 26 killed were children, including eight members of one extended family.

Police said someone inside the church wrenched the rifle out of his hands inside the church, and Kelley then drove off, pursued by a neighbour and eventually committed suicide 18km away, having called his father to say he "would not make it".

Kelley had a history of disturbing behaviour, according to criminal and US military records, former classmates and a former girlfriend who accused him of harassing her.

Former girlfriend Brittany Adcock said they had dated for about four months when he was 18 and she was 13 nearly a decade ago, and that he had harassed her long after that.

After they broke up, she said, he began calling her constantly and creating fake Facebook profiles to try to connect with her. He last messaged her around six months ago, she said.

Richard Rodriguez. Social media/Handout via REUTERS
Richard Rodriguez. Social media/Handout via REUTERS

At one point, she said she called police to file a complaint, and changed her phone number. "He just started getting really weird," Adcock (22) said.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has said the mass shooting "isn't a guns situation" but is a "mental health problem at the highest level".

While no officials have publicly questioned Kelley's mental health, Mr Trump said that "is your problem here" when asked about the shooting as he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a joint news conference in Tokyo.

Joann Ward. Social media/Handout via REUTERS
Joann Ward. Social media/Handout via REUTERS

"This was a very, based on preliminary reports, a very deranged individual. A lot of problems over a long period of time," Mr Trump said.

"We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn't a guns situation," the president said.

A cached photo of Kelley's Facebook page, which was deleted in the wake of the shooting, showed a photo of a rifle under which Kelley wrote, "She's a bad bitch."

Kelley frequently shared posts on Facebook about atheism and his assault rifle, according to Reid Mosis, who attended school in New Braunfels with Kelley. Mosis (26) said in an interview that Kelley was "always a bit of a loner."

Another school friend, Courtney Kleiber, said on Facebook: "Over the years we all saw him change into something that he wasn't. To be completely honest, I'm really not surprised this happened, and I don't think anyone who knew him is very surprised either."

Bryan Holcombe and his wife Karla Plain Holcombe. Social media/Handout via REUTERS
Bryan Holcombe and his wife Karla Plain Holcombe. Social media/Handout via REUTERS
Crystal Holcombe. Social media/Handout via REUTERS
Crystal Holcombe. Social media/Handout via REUTERS

Irish Independent

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