'Most Of Our Church Family Is Gone': 26 Dead In Church Shooting In South Texas
Twenty-six people are dead after a mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, about 30 miles east of San Antonio.
Gov. Greg Abbott called it "the largest mass shooting in our state's history."
(This post has been updated throughout as information has become available)
The shooting occurred at the First Baptist Church around 11:20 am on Sunday morning. According to law enforcement, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire with a military-style assault rifle. Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt says Kelley's in-laws worshipped at the church from time to time. Officials said at a late morning press conference Monday that Kelley had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law and that the shooting may have stemmed from a "domestic situation."
Kelley fled the scene when confronted by armed citizens, which led to a high-speed chase. Authorities found Kelley dead in his car several miles from the scene. Tackitt says it appears the gunman died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The victims of the shooting range from 18 months to 77 years of age.
Tackitt says some did escape alive.
"Everyone had blood on them when they came out, so it was hard to tell at the beginning," he said. "But there were some that came out uninjured."
Tackitt personally knew one of the families and says the scene will stay with him.
"When I walked in I saw a lot of bodies lying around," he said. "Mothers were trying to cover their children. It was just bad."
NPR has more on the gunman’s background:
Kelley previously served in the U.S. Air Force in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until he received a bad conduct discharge in 2014, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed in an email to NPR. He was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child.
Law enforcement officials say Kelley had three guns with him.
Monday afternoon Col. Don Christensen (ret.), who was the chief prosecutor of the Air Force at the time of Devin Patrick Kelley's court-martial, told NPR that Kelley’s conviction legally barred him from possessing firearms under federal law.
Kelley had passed a background check by the Texas Department of Public Safety to become a licensed unarmed security guard. In a statement released Monday by Texas water park chain Schlitterbahn, the company said Kelley worked for 5 1/2 weeks this summer at the park in New Braunfels as an unarmed night security guard. The company says his employment was terminated in July.
The shooter's most recent employer, Summit Vacation Resort, said he had only been on the job for about a month.
"He worked here for approximately five weeks. Nobody bonded with him. Nobody really spoke with him, other than training him to do his job," resort manager Claudia Varjabedian told KUT.
"He was not here on Sunday for his shift. We found out about 5:15 pm that he had done that, and that’s just about all we know about him. We don’t know anything.”
In an interview with CBS This Morning, Governor Abbott confirmed Kelley’s violent background.
“It’s clear this is a person who had violent tendencies,” Abbott says. “[He’s] someone who was a powder keg...waiting to go off.”
A law enforcement official told CNN that Kelley purchased a Ruger AR-556 rifle in April of 2016 from an Academy Sports & Outdoors in San Antonio:
When Kelley filled out the background check paperwork at the store, he checked the box to indicate he didn't have disqualifying criminal history, the official said. He listed an address in Colorado Springs, Colorado when he bought the rifle, the official said.
Monday afternoon Academy Sports and Outdoors confirmed the company had sold Kelley two firearms from two San Antonio stores. One in 2016 and one in 2017. The company said both purchases where, "...approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System."
Governor Abbott says Kelley was denied a license to carry permit in the State of Texas due to the answers, or lack thereof, provided on his official request. Abbott says this and Kelley’s violent background, should have prevented him from making this purchase.
“How that got through the cracks?” Abbott says. “I don’t have that information.”
Abbott says the evidence so far leads him to believe it was not a random act, but law enforcement has yet to confirm a connection between Kelley and the church.