SAN ANTONIO (CBSMiami/AP) – The Air Force has launched a review of how it mishandled details of Devin Kelley’s past which allowed him to buy the rifle he reportedly used in his attack on a small-town Texas church in which 26 people died.
Kelly’s 2012 domestic assault conviction should have prevented him from buying a gun but that information was never passed along to the FBI so it could be entered into a nationwide database.
A ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed, called it a “breakdown in the system that needs to be addressed immediately.”
Air Force court-martial documents from 2013 show Kelly pleaded guilty to striking, choking, kicking and pulling the hair of his then-wife on two separate occasions. He also pleaded guilty to striking his stepson “on the head and body with force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.”
Former top Air Force prosecutor, retired Col. Don Christensen, said Kelly hit his stepson so hard it fractured the boy’s skull.
“He should not have had a gun because one, the maximum punishment was more than a year, and two, it involved domestic violence,” said Christensen.
But according to law enforcement sources, Kelly purchased a Ruger A-R rifle in April 2016, at a San Antonio gun shop.
In December 2014, the same year he was discharged, Kelly bought a Glock 9 millimeter handgun at a gun store in Colorado Springs. Jeff Lepp, the owner of the store, said he relies on the national database to screen his customers. He’s now left wondering how the system broke down.
“You never want to sell something to someone who will commit any form of a crime, let alone a mass murder like this,” he said.
In the tiny town of 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 the pastor’s wife Sherri Pomeroy, who, like her husband, was out of town 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.
Once the shooting started, there was probably “no way” for congregants to escape, Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said.
The gunman, dressed in black tactical gear, 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 scene, along with at least 15 empty magazines that held 30 rounds each.
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 cell phone 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.
A few months before he received the bad-conduct discharge, sheriff’s deputies went to his home to check out the domestic violence complaint involving him and his then-girlfriend. People in the house said there was no problem, and no arrests were made. Kelley married the girlfriend two months later.
Also in 2014, he was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty in Colorado after a neighbor reported him for beating a dog. Kelley initially refused to speak with officers about the incident. He denied abusing the animal but complied with an order to pay almost $370 in restitution. He was also the focus of a protective order issued in Colorado in 2015.
Kelley lived in New Braunfels, about 35 miles north of the church, authorities said. Investigators were reviewing social media posts he made in the days before the attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon.
Less than two months ago, Kelley had started a job as an unarmed security guard at a nearby resort. Claudia Varjabedian, manager at the Summit Vacation Resort, Kelly “seemed like a nice guy” and did not cause any problems.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)