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Texas church shooting: Gunman escaped from mental health center in 2012

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The gunman who killed 26 people at a small-town Texas church was treated at a mental health center in New Mexico and briefly escaped in 2012, according to a police report. (WLS)

The gunman who carried out the massacre at a small-town Texas church briefly escaped from a mental health center in New Mexico in 2012 and got in trouble for bringing guns onto a military base and threatening his superiors there, police reports indicate.

PHOTOS: MASS SHOOTING AT TEXAS CHURCH KILLED AT LEAST 26


Devin Patrick Kelley was also named as a suspect in a 2013 sexual assault in his Texas hometown of New Braunfels, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the scene of the church attack.

The records that emerged Tuesday add up to at least three missed opportunities that might have offered law enforcement a way to stop Kelley from having access to guns long before he slaughtered much of the congregation in the middle of a Sunday service. Authorities said the death toll of 26 included the unborn baby of one of the women killed. Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was chased by bystanders and crashed his car.



The Air Force confirmed Tuesday that Kelley had been treated in the facility after he was placed under pretrial confinement stemming from a court-martial on charges that he assaulted his then-wife and hit her child hard enough to fracture the boy's skull.

Involuntary commitment to a mental institution would have been grounds to deny him a weapon provided that records of his confinement were submitted to the federal database used to conduct background checks on people who try to purchase guns.

Kelley was also caught trying to bring guns onto Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico when he was stationed there, according to an El Paso, Texas, police report released Tuesday.

While in the military, Kelley, who was 21 at the time, made death threats against superior officers, according to the June 2012 report, which also mentioned the military charges. He was eventually sentenced to 12 months of confinement for the assault.



The Air Force acknowledged Monday that it did not enter Kelley's criminal history into the federal database as required by military rules, another way he could have been denied a weapon.

Had Kelley been convicted of sexual assault, he would likely have been prevented from purchasing a gun because federal guidelines prohibit sales to anyone convicted of a felony punishable by more than one year in prison. The Comal County sheriff said he was reviewing whether his department mishandled the sexual assault investigation.

Authorities recovered a Ruger AR-556 rifle at the church and two handguns from the shooter's vehicle. All three weapons were purchased by Kelley, said Fred Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Houston.

The El Paso report notes that Kelley was committed to a mental health facility in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, but at some point escaped and was later found by police at a bus station in downtown El Paso in June 2012.

Deputies were called to Kelley's home in New Braunfels in June 2013 about the rape case and investigated for three months, Comal County Sheriff Mark Reynolds said. But it appeared that they stopped investigating after they believed Kelley left Texas and moved to Colorado. Reynolds said the case was then listed as inactive.

The sheriff said he was trying to determine how deputies came to believe Kelley had moved and why they did not continue to pursue the case, either in Colorado or after Kelley returned to the area later. Deputies were called to the same house in February 2014 to investigate a domestic violence report involving Kelley and Danielle Shields, his girlfriend at the time, whom he married two months later.

"The last information that we have is the suspect moved to Colorado and then the investigation seems to have tapered off," Reynolds said Tuesday. "That's what we're looking into."

The district attorney for Comal County said in an interview that she became aware of the sexual assault case Monday before the records were released to The Associated Press and other media.

"That case was never presented to our office," Jennifer Tharp said.

The records from Comal County also describe a burglary that Kelley's father, Michael, reported on his property the day after the sexual assault report. Michael Kelley told an officer that someone had taken a laptop computer and hard drive belonging to his son from a barn he had converted into an apartment for Devin Kelley. But Kelley said his son was unavailable to talk to police because he had been in a traffic accident that morning.

None of the documents explains whether there was a connection between the sexual assault report and the burglary report.

At a news conference in South Korea, Trump was asked if he would support "extreme vetting" for gun purchases in the same way he has called for "extreme vetting" for people entering the country. Trump responded by saying stricter gun control measures might have led to more deaths in the shooting because a bystander who shot at the gunman would not have been armed.

"If he didn't have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead," Trump said.


Meanwhile at the First Baptist Church in tiny Sutherland Springs, investigators continued analyzing a gruesome crime scene and tried to gain access to the shooter's cellphone, a longstanding challenge for the FBI in thousands of other cases.

Authorities aimed to conclude the crime-scene investigation at the church by Wednesday evening. Investigators have no reason to believe anyone conspired with Kelley, who acted alone, said Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin.

Martin repeated earlier statements that the shooting appeared to stem from a domestic dispute involving Kelley and his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended services at the church but was not present on Sunday.

"We don't know what he was thinking or what was in his mind," Martin said. "There was conflict. He was upset with the mother-in-law."

The gunman's phone was flown to an FBI lab for analysis, but agents have yet to access it, said Christopher Combs, who is in charge of the agency's San Antonio division.

The inability to access the shooter's phone highlights a longstanding frustration of the FBI. Director Christopher Wray said last month that in the first 11 months of the fiscal year, agents were unable to access the content inside more than 6,900 mobile devices, an issue he said stymies investigations.

The FBI and other law enforcement officials have long complained about being unable to unlock and recover evidence from cellphones and other devices seized from suspects even if authorities have a warrant. Technology companies have refused to help, insisting they must protect customers' digital privacy.

The long-simmering debate was on display in 2016, when the Justice Department tried to force Apple to unlock an encrypted cellphone used by a gunman in an attack in San Bernardino, California. The department eventually relented after the FBI said it paid an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock the phone and no longer needed Apple's assistance, avoiding a court showdown.

Authorities: Victims range from 18 months to 77 years old

Robert and Shani Corrigan moved around during his three decades in the Air Force. Married the summer after graduating from high school in Michigan, the couple first learned about the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas, when he was stationed in San Antonio.

The couple bought a home in nearby Floresville and didn't sell it when Robert Corrigan was stationed at Air Force bases outside the state. When he retired about two years ago, the couple was able to put down roots, and a big part of their lives was First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

"They kept that home and already had bonded with that community and knew that they were going to make that their home for the rest of their lives," his sister, Sharon Corrigan, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "They raised chickens there. They had fallen into their happy life."

The Corrigans were among the more than two dozen victims killed Sunday when a gunman opened fire inside the small church.

The rampage killed several other longtime married couples and members of their extended families, many of them children. About 20 other church goers were wounded in the attack, which was the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

"Losing him and her is just so tragic," Sharon Corrigan said, noting two of the couple's adult sons also are in the Air Force. "We are so proud of them and love them so much."

Another family bears the unspeakable burden of nearly a third of the fatalities.

Visiting pastor Brian Holcombe and his wife, Karla, were at the church with nearly a dozen family members, including several of their grandchildren. The Holcombes' daughter-in-law, Crystal, a widow and already a mother of five, was pregnant. Crystal had recently married one of the Holcombe's sons, John.

John Holcombe survived, but those killed included his wife, three of her children, his parents, a brother and a toddler niece. Other victims included several members of at least one other extended family, a couple visiting for the church for first time and the 14-year-old daughter of the church's usual pastor.

Investigators said the victims ranged in age from 18 months old to 77 years old.

Investigators said the gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, had recently sent threatening texts to his mother-in-law, a member of the church who wasn't there Sunday. Police said the shooting appears to have been driven by domestic tensions. Kelley, who was ousted from the Air Force for a 2012 assault on his ex-wife, was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound later Sunday.

Also killed were 66-year-old Theresa Rodriguez and 64-year-old Richard Rodriguez, a recently retired couple who enjoyed gardening and working on their house in nearby La Vernia.

His sister, Evangelina Santos, said the couple married about a decade ago. He had an adult daughter, while Theresa Rodriguez had two adult sons.

"They were really giving," Santos said. "If somebody had a problem, they were there."

Santos said her brother would come to her house in San Antonio once a week to visit their parents, who live with her.

"He would bring us food, drinks. That was once a week, he would be here all day with us. So we're going to miss that," she said. "My parents are really taking it hard."

Texas authorities: We won't mention shooter's name again

The shooter's name went unspoken at a news conference on the killings at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and authorities there said they intend to keep refraining from saying it.

"We do not want to glorify him and what he has done," Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin said at the Monday briefing.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs agreed, saying "we don't talk about the shooter" in the hope that it "doesn't encourage other people to do horrific acts."

That choice reflects a larger movement of authorities, victims' families and academics who want to deny to mass killers the fame they often seek, and to keep from inspiring the next one.

The message: Don't hide information, but don't hype it. Report the name of a shooter when it's first released, then leave it out.

The movement was created by No Notoriety, a group at the forefront of the effort that focuses on spreading simple, meme-friendly ideas.

"Stop making rampage mass murderers famous," read a post on Facebook and Twitter, along with a blotted out photo of the Texas shooter, who killed 26 people.

"Focus on victims and heroes - not their killers!" one popular post said.

Caren and Tom Teves, whose son, Alex, was killed while shielding his girlfriend in the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado, started the group. They were driven to act by feelings of disgust, but found common cause with experts.

While the immediate provocations for shooters differ - authorities in Texas said the shooting may have been prompted by a domestic violence situation - most seek the same kind of attention.

Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the social effects of technology, said evidence shows that future mass shooters were carefully watching coverage of the most recent attacks.

She has repeatedly urged - both online and in op-eds - that outlets should avoid repetition of the killer's name and face and steer clear of step-by-step discussions of their methods.

"It's past time that we considered less sensationalist ways of covering mass shootings, and reported such grim news without plastering the killer's name and face everywhere," Tufekci told The Associated Press in an email.

Tufekci said media outlets already are cautious in what they report about suicides for fear of inspiring copycats, and doing the same for mass shooters would be "just sound editorial policy, not censorship."

The policy of The Associated Press is to use the name of the alleged perpetrator as provided by police or other authorities.

The AP does have guidelines for withholding names and images in other cases, however, including those of people who say they have been sexually assaulted or subjected to extreme abuse.


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