New Braunfels Residents 'Shocked' To Learn Shooter Came From Their Town
While the small Texas town of Sutherland Springs struggles to come to terms with the mass shooting at First Baptist Church on Sunday, another Texas community is also reeling.
The shooter grew up in New Braunfels, just north of San Antonio. Now, residents of the town of about 74,000 are grappling with the fact that someone who lived among them could have committed such an act.
“We’re close knit; people wave when I’m riding my bikes with my kids,” Dawn Watson, a gas station clerk, said Sunday. “The customers in here have been in shock – some overwhelmed; some sad.”
Like many in town, Watson knew Kelley, though not well. She went to high school with him and remembers him as “different, kind of a loner.”
In front of the high school on Monday, freshman Matt Doerr lowered the U.S. and Texas flags to half-staff as his grandfather watched.
Matt said it was “harsh” knowing the shooter was from nearby and that fear seems to be growing with each new attack.
“I carry [a gun] everywhere I can now,” his grandfather, Ronnie Nolte, said.
“I’d like to know more about the person who did this … not so much to know about him," he said, "but to know about what to be looking for down the road if something like that were to happen."
After graduating from high school in 2009, Kelley joined the Air Force. He was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his then-wife and stepson. He served a year in confinement.
After being discharged for "bad conduct," he got in trouble with the law for animal cruelty in Colorado in 2014. He ended up moving back to New Braunfels, where he lived with his second wife on a ranch-to-market road about 10 miles from the high school. In Texas, he was investigated for domestic abuse and sexual assault, but charges were never brought against him.
The houses on that stretch of road are far apart, with deep gated driveways and, often, "no trespassing" signs. Neighbors have described the frequent sound of gunfire from Kelley’s property, where a sheriff’s deputy was parked Monday, guarding the entrance.
While some of Kelley’s former classmates remember him as withdrawn but somehow menacing, others say he was fairly normal in high school, but seemed changed when he returned to Texas.
Matt Wisher and Kelley played sports and went to the same church together in high school.
“He was maybe a little arrogant, but I never had any problems with him,” Wisher said. “I didn’t see him for five or six years … and he contacted me on Facebook.”
Wisher said in that time Kelley had changed. “He was now an atheist, and his physical appearance had changed. He had gained about 200 pounds.”
Wisher also said Kelley told him he was having trouble with his marriage, but it didn’t sound that serious.
“I was just shocked. I didn’t think he’d be able to do something like that,” he said.
People in town also feel a tragic kinship with the people of Sutherland Springs for another reason: Earlier this year, the New Braunfels First Baptist Church lost 13 of its congregants when a drunken driver plowed into a church bus.
Brad McLean, pastor of the First Baptist Church in New Braunfels, says the “gruesome nature” of the Sutherland Springs incident makes it stand apart. But he says he hopes the experience of his church in dealing with its own tragedy can show a way toward healing.
“We will pray for those in Sutherland Springs, we will pray for that church family," he said. "We will pray for those who have suffered the loss of family members."
And, he said, they will pray for the family of Devin Patrick Kelley.