‘Domestic situation’ linked to Texas church massacre


Texas Public Safety authorities say the Sutherland Springs church shooting appears to have stemmed from a “domestic situation.” It’s not the first domestic incident involving suspected gunman Devin Kelley. USA TODAY

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — A lone gunman’s gruesome assault on a rural church that killed 26 people and wounded 20 more appears to have stemmed from a domestic dispute, authorities said Monday.

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Monday identified the shooter as Devin Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels. DPS official Freeman Martin said Kelley’s mother-in-law had previously attended services at the First Baptist Church but was not there during Sunday’s bloodbath, the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

Kelley had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, Martin said.

“We can tell you that there was a domestic situation going on within this family,” Martin said. “This was not racially motivated; it wasn’t over religious beliefs.”

Martin said the case was not being investigated as terrorism. Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his spouse and their child, receiving a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force and 12 months of confinement.

More: When is it terrorism? When is it a hate crime?

More: Hero Johnnie Langendorff describes chasing Texas church shooting suspect

More: First Baptist Church pastor’s 14-year-old daughter among dead

Martin said the victims in Sunday’s rampage ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years. He said 20 people were wounded in the attack and some remained in critical condition Monday. The ages of the wounded ranged from 5 to 73 years, he said.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said about half the victims were children. All of the bodies had been removed from the First Baptist Church, he said.

“It’s just a horrific sight,” Tackitt said. “You don’t expect to walk into a church and see something like that, especially when all the bodies were there, and seeing the children. That’s what hurts the most.”

The church normally posts its services online, and Martin said video recordings from Sunday had been “secured.” Tackitt, however, said “very little” of the service had been recorded.

Texas man Johnnie Langendorff describes his pursuit of church gunman. AP

A nearby resident, armed with an assault rifle, confronted Kelley when he fled the church, Martin said. The resident shot Kelley twice, then Kelley drove off in a Ford Expedition while the resident flagged down a passing pickup and pursued the SUV.

Kelley called his father to say he was shot before crashing his car. Martin said Kelley apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot. Kelley had three gunshot wounds — two from where the armed man hit him in the leg and the torso and the third self-inflicted wound to the head, authorities said.

Tackitt said he has spoken with the man who confronted Kelley.

“He doesn’t believe he’s a hero, but I believe he is,” Tackitt said, adding that the man doesn’t want to speak to any media.

“If he hadn’t been there, the guy could have possibly gotten away, you know because, I mean no one would have seen what type of vehicle he was driving,” he said. “There’s another church two miles down the road over there. He could have stopped in there, too.”

Fred Milanowski, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said a rifle and two handguns were recovered. Milanowski said the guns had been purchased by Kelley.

Military legal experts say Devin Kelley should have been barred from owning a firearm under federal laws since he was convicted in a general court-martial, the most serious form of military tribunal.

“He would not have been able to purchase a weapon based on his court martial conviction,” said Gary Barthel, a former Marine Corps lawyer.

President Trump, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, said Kelley was “deranged” and that the focus should be on mental health, not gun control.

“I think mental health is the problem here,” Trump said. “This isn’t a guns situation.”

Martin said Kelley, who did not have a license to carry a concealed handgun, was licensed as an unarmed security guard. This summer, Kelley worked for less than six weeks at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels as a seasonal unarmed night security guard, the waterpark said in a statement. The statement said Kelley was terminated in July.

The church’s pastor, Frank Pomeroy, was out of town and not at Sunday’s service. Tackitt confirmed that the guest pastor was among the victims.

Pomeroy’s wife, Sherri, confirmed that their daughter Annabelle, 14, was also among the victims.

“We lost more than Belle yesterday, and the one thing that gives me a sliver of encouragement is the fact that Belle was surrounded by her church family that she loved fiercely,” Sherri Pomeroy said. “Now, most of our church family is gone.”

Dearman reports for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times; Bacon reports for USA TODAY from McLean, Va. Contributing: Jim Michaels, USA TODAY

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