The Texas church shooter had family connections to the church where he killed at least 26 on Sunday in what is now the worst mass shooting in the state’s history.
At an afternoon press conference, police revealed that shooter Devin Patrick Kelley had ‘expressed anger towards his mother-in-law’ Michelle Shields, who attended the church.
Michelle wasn’t present for worship on Sunday when the massacre unfolded, but spoke to investigators after.
Officials said he sent ‘threatening texts’ to Shields, but wouldn’t go into further detail about their ‘domestic situation’. However, Freeman Martin of the Texas Rangers says that what they know so far indicates that the attack was domestic and not ‘racially’ or religiously motivated. An agent from the FBI said they are not investigating the shooting as an act of terror.
It was previously reported that Kelley’s wife Danielle was a former teacher at the school, and that her mother was a parishioner who is friends with the pastor and his wife.
Earlier in the day, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackett told reporters that Kelley and his wife were estranged, but wouldn’t explain why. Marriage records show the couple tied the knot in Comal County, Texas on April 4, 2014, when Kelley was 23 and his bride was 19. As of Monday, Danielle’s Facebook profile still listed her relationship status as ‘married’ and photos on the account show pictures of two young kids – a baby girl and an older boy.
Neighbor Mark Moravitz told ABC News that Kelley lived at his parents’ home in New Braunfels with his wife and that he would sometimes hear gunshots coming from near the residence at night.
Records show Kelley was also married once before to a Tessa K Kelley, who he married in April 2011. Kelley and his other wife divorced a year later – the same year that he was court-martialed for domestic violence.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Kelley was court-martialed on one count of assault on his spouse and another count of assault on their child. He was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement, a reduction in rank and was discharged for bad conduct two years later.
Stefanek said Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge.
Kelley opened fire on the group of parishioners Sunday morning, killing 26 and injuring 20.
A Good Samaritan intervened, shooting Kelley as he left the church. Kelley then got into his car and fled, as the hero bystander and another man chased him in another car. Police say Kelley called his father as he was driving away from the church, telling him he was shot and didn’t think he was going to make it.
The two men who pursued Kelley say he lost control of his car and crashed into a ditch. By the time police showed up on the scene, he was dead. The official cause of death is pending an autopsy, but officials believe he may have committed suicide through a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Of the 20 people that were hospitalized, 10 remain in critical condition, six are in stable condition, four are in serious condition and four have been released.
Officials plan to release the identities of the victims as soon as their next of kin have been released.
All of the bodies have been removed from the church and over the next several days, they plan to perform an autopsy on each of the victims.
Investigators said they have also obtained video that was taken inside the church during the shooting.
Police recovered three guns from the scene of the massacre – a Rugger 556 rifle left behind at the church and two handguns found in Kelley’s car (a Glock 9m and a Ruger 22).
The fact that Kelley was able to buy guns at all considering his negative discharge from the military is a question investigators have yet to answer.
They say he did not have a handgun license, but in Texas and Colorado (where he previously lived) you don’t need one to buy a firearm.
Police discovered that Kelley bought four guns in the past four consecutive years, two of them in Colorado and two in Texas.
Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, dressed in black, tactical gear with a ballistics belt and an assault rifle, and began shooting Sunday morning.
The attack only stopped when Kelley was confronted by local hero Stephen Willeford, 55, who shot him through a gap in his body armor as the gunman tried to leave the church. Kelley fled in his car, where he proceeded to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head.
At least 26 people were killed in the shooting, but the death toll is expected to climb, authorities say. Victims include a two-year-old girl and the 14-year-old adopted daughter of the pastor.
Eight members of one family, including a eight-months-pregnant mother and three of her children were killed. The Connally Memorial Medical Center said ‘multiple’ victims are being treated.
Last night, San Antonio police raided Kelley’s home with K9 and bomb squad units, along with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives unit and FBI.
Horrific details of the attack have started to emerge with police saying there was likely ‘no way’ for congregants to escape. Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said: ‘He (Kelley) just walked down the center aisle, turned around and my understanding was shooting on his way back out. It’s unbelievable to see children, men and women, laying there. Defenseless people.’
Kelley was a US Air Force veteran and former Bible studies teacher but his Facebook page, which has been deleted by the FBI, reveals he had a worrying fascination with weaponry.
He’d recently shared a photo of an AR-15 style gun on Facebook with the caption: ‘She’s a bad b***h.’
A LinkedIn account which appears to be Kelley’s states that he joined the US Air Force after graduating New Braunfels High School in 2009.
Sometime after getting kicked out of the military in 2014, Kelley was living in Colorado where he was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.
Kelley was given a deferred probationary sentenced and ordered to pay $368 in restitution. The case was dismissed in march 2016 when he completed his sentence.
Kelley then volunteered as a teacher for Bible studies at Kingsville First Baptist Church, according to his LinkedIn which shows him posing with a young child.
He was reportedly employed by Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort in New Braunfels and licensed by the Texas Department of Public Safety as a security guard at the time of the shooting. But a representative for the water park told CNN that he was fired this summer after just five and a half weeks.
‘Devin Patrick Kelley worked briefly – 5 1/2 weeks – this summer at Schlitterbahn New Braunfels as a seasonal unarmed night security guard. His employment was terminated,” Winter Profapio, the corporate director of communications at Schlitterbahn Waterpark and Resort, wrote in a statement posted to the resort’s website.
‘All our security guards must pass a criminal background check through the Texas Department of Public Safety.’
Profapio wouldn’t get into details about his firing, but told ABC News ‘he was not a good git’.
At a Monday morning press conference, officials said Kelley had a license to work as a security guard and that there was nothing on his record that would preclude him from getting such a license, despite his sketchy military and criminal history.
What we know about the shooter
- Named as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26-year-old white male, of New Braunfels, a suburb of San Antonio,
- Was found dead in a crashed car after a brief chase following the shooting
- Officials say he committed sucide by shooting himself in the head
- Was dressed in all black, tactical gear with a ballistics belt and multiple weapons in his car
- Fired outside the church, then went into the church and continued to fire
- Resident near the church intervened, and knocked the gun out of Kelley’s hands, then chased him in his car
- Kelley showed off an AR-15 rifle on Facebook recently
- Served in the military in ‘cargo, demand and supply and distribution’ but was dishonorably discharged
- Was married and believed to have taught Bible studies at Kingsville First Baptist Church
- Was estranged from his wife who used to teach at the school and whose family were parishioners there
Former classmates described him as ‘creepy’, ‘crazy’ and an ‘outcast’ who had recently started preaching about atheism and picking fights on social media. However, local law enforcement say he had a relatively clean criminal record, with just a traffic offense in recent years.
Police are now investigating the possibility that Kelley was in a local militia group.
The first of Kelley’s 26 victims have been identified in the wake of the shooting. They include Annabelle Pomeroy, whose father – First Baptist Church Pastor Frank Pomeroy – had been out of town during the attack. The grieving dad told ABC he’s lost ‘one beautiful girl, and a ‘special child.’
Bryan Holcombe had been standing in for Frank Pomeroy as pastor when Kelley opened fire. Witnesses say he was the first victim to be struck by the shooter’s gunfire.
‘Bryan was filling in,’ the witness, who did not want to be named, told DailyMail.com. ‘He was walking up to the pulpit when he was shot in the back.
‘He was an awesome Christian,’ they added.
He was killed, alongside his wife of 25 years, Sunday school teacher Karla Holcombe, as well as their daughter-in-law Crystal, a mom-of-five who was eight-months-pregnant, local residents reported. Three of Chrystal’s children – Megyn, Emily and Greg – also died.
‘The family is just devastated,’ the witness added.
The couple ran a canvas repair shop before retiring and had attended the church for 25 years.
‘My father was a good man and he loved to preach. He had a good heart. They knew where they were going. There’s peace in that,’ their son Scott Holcombe told the Herald-Tribune.
Mother-of-four Joann Ward and three of her children were also shot. Family have since told the Dallas News that Joann and two of her daughters, six-year-old Brooke and eight-year-old Emily have died.
Ward’s five-year-old stepson Ryland, who was shot four times, is still in hospital after undergoing emergency surgery. The mom’s eldest daughter Rihanna, nine, had the glasses shot off her face but escaped injury by hiding under a pew as shots rang out.
Footage from Ksat showed families weeping as they waited to discover if relatives were victims.
Authorities say that Kelley had turned up ready for combat on Sunday morning.
The gunman was spotted moments before the shooting, at around 11.20am, at a Valero gas station, ‘dressed in all black, tactical gear, wearing a ballistics belt’.
In a press conference, Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin, said Kelley had then ‘crossed the street to the church, exited his vehicle and began firing on the church. He moved to the right side of the church and continued to fire, and entered the church and continued to fire.’
But as he left the church, Willeford risked his life to stop him.
‘A local resident grabbed his rifle and engaged the suspect,’ Martin said. ‘The suspect dropped his rifle, which was a Ruger assault type rifle, and fled from the church. A local citizen pursued the subject at that time.’
Willeford, who has no military experience, didn’t hesitate when came face to face with Kelley, and shot him in between Kelley’s body armor, hitting him in his side.
Texas gunman was a ‘creepy outcast’ who ‘preached his atheism’ online before killing 26
Former classmates say Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, who stormed First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas and opened fire on Sunday, was ‘creepy’, ‘crazy’ and ‘weird’.
Patrick Boyce, who attended New Braunfels High School with the killer, told DailyMail.com: ‘He had a kid or two, fairly normal, but kinda quiet and lately seemed depressed.
‘He was the first atheist I met. He went Air Force after high school, got discharged but I don’t know why.
‘I was just shocked [to hear the news]. Still haven’t quite processed how he could have done that.’
Nina Rose Nava, who went to school with the gunman, wrote on Facebook: ‘In (sic) in complete shock! I legit just deleted him off my fb cause I couldn’t stand his post.
‘He was always talking about how people who believe in God we’re stupid and trying to preach his atheism’
Christopher Leo Longoria replied: ‘I removed him off FB for those same reasons! He was being super nagtive (sic) all the timd (sic).’
Michael Goff added: ‘He was weird but never that damn weird, always posting his atheist sh** like Nina wrote, but damn he always posted pics of him and his baby – crazy.’
Nava added to DailyMail.com: ‘I went to school with him. We had a few conversations here and there. It’s not something I expected from him.
‘He was an outcast but not a loner. He was popular among other outcast. I haven’t spoke to him since high school.’
Another former classmate, who asked to remain anonymous, told DailyMail.com: ‘I grew up going to school with him… Always creeped me out and was different.’
She said she moved away from the area while she was in junior high and lost touch with a lot of people.
However, Kelley recently commented on one of her Facebook posts.
‘I said I just want to move back to Texas,’ she said. ‘And he said something along the lines of “Texas isn’t any better”. Pretty much said he didn’t like Texas.
‘I think he had one kid, she/he is still a baby. He was married but I don’t know to who. It’s crazy to think I grew up with him. Same town. Same school. Same classes.
‘He was different in school and creeped me out but never would I have thought he would do such a horrific thing.’
A former friend wrote on Facebook: ‘It’s scary to know this psychopath has been in my house. I can’t believe I was friends with this guy and I literally would stay the night at his place when we were kids.’
He added: ‘I ended up distancing myself from him in high school after he got in an argument with me in school and he tried punching me several times. Dude was crazy man.’
Cord Eubank Brown wrote on social media: ‘I cannot believe this. I went to high school with this maniac.
‘There were people I knew who stayed away from this guy for many reasons, which all make sense now. He just requested me on facebook recently.’
The 26-year-old had dropped his Ruger assault rifle and climbed in an SUV to flee the scene.
Another local resident, Johnnie Langendorff, had stopped at the gas station across the street to get breakfast when he saw a commotion at the church.
He says he saw Kelley leave the church as he was being pursued by Willeford.
When Kelley took off in his car, he says Willeford came over to him, told him what was going on and said that they needed to chase after him.
Langendorff agreed, and the two started speeding at 95mph to catch up to the suspect. All the while, Lagendorff was on the phone to dispatch, letting officers know their location.
As they approached a sharp curve in the road, near the 307 and 539, in Guadalupe County, he said Kelley appeared to lose control and his car swerved off the road.
‘It’s like he just gave up. He just kind of went off in the ditch, hit a hay bale from what I could see and then he just never moved after that. He didn’t get out. He didn’t try anything. Nothing.
‘When he hit the ditch the gentleman that was with me got out, rested his rifle on my hood and kept it aimed at him – telling him to “Get out, get out”. There was no movement there was none that. They guy didn’t put up a fight or anything like that.’
‘Once police showed up they moved me and the gentleman back and then everybody showed up and they took action,’ Lagendorff said.
Officials now say that Kelley committed suicide while fleeing in the car, which caused him to lose control of the vehicle. They found him dead inside, along with multiple weapons and possible explosives.
San Antonio police also raided Kelley’s home on Sunday evening, with K9 and bomb squad units, along with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives unit and FBI.
Martin said that 23 found dead inside the church, and another two bodies were recovered from outside the building. Another person, who was taken to hospital, died while receiving treatment.
The first responders on the scene were from local churches who began receiving texts from family and friends about the shooting.
Injuries range from minor to very severe, while victims were aged from five-years-old to 72.
It’s not yet clear how many were in church at the time of the shooting but Martin said some escaped unhurt.
A young man standing outside the Brooke Army Medical Center told MySA.com that he had been wounded in the shooting and that this father had been killed. His mother was in another hospital.
Many of the dead remained inside the small rural church Sunday evening, as crime scene investigators worked to reconstruct the scene.
‘My heart is broken,’ Gamez said. ‘We never think where it can happen, and it does happen. It doesn’t matter where you’re at. In a small community, real quiet and everything, and look at this, what can happen.’
It is believed to have been the worst shooting at a place of worship in American history, and the deadliest in Texas state history.
Residents of the community gathered for an emotional candlelight vigil on Sunday night as the names of the victims began to emerge.
‘I’ve known her since she was about eight years old,’ resident Gloria Rodriguez Ximenez told CNN of the 14-year-old pastor’s daughter who died.
‘There’s no words to describe how wonderful people they are – Christian. It’s just a small Christian town, everybody knows each other, everybody supports each other,’ she said.
Dana Fletcher, who owns a store in Sutherland Springs, told CNN: ‘It’s just awful…there were emergency responders everywhere.’
Neighbors in the area said they may have heard the shooter reload multiple times.
Sutherland Springs is a rural community in Wilson County, Texas, that’s made up of about 400 people. It’s located about 30 miles southeast of San Antonio. There are 11 hotels in the area, and there used to be a 52-floor facility, but it closed in 1923.
Texas Congressman Vicente Gonzalez told MSNBC that based on what he knew, he did not believe the incident was related to terrorism, but ‘was some kind of other incident that has to do with the church or the community’.
Carrie Matula, who works at a gas station near the church, told MSNBC that she heard ‘semiautomatic gunfire’ and looked to see what was going on.
‘I never thought it would happen here,’ Matula said. ‘This is something that happens in a big city. I would never have thought this would have taken place here. It’s just too tight a community. It doesn’t make sense.’
President Donald Trump, who is visiting Japan, sent his condolences to the Sutherland Springs community.
‘Victims and their families were in their sacred place of worship. We cannot put into words the pain and grief we all feel,’ he said in a televised statement from Japan, urging everyone to ‘stand strong, oh so strong.’
‘In dark times such as these, Americans do we what do best and we pull together. We lock hands and we joins arms. Through the tears and through the sadness we stand strong.’
He went on to say that the worst mass shooting in Texas history is a ‘mental health problem at the highest level’.
Speaking at an event with the Japanese prime minister in Tokyo on Monday, Trump described the gunman as a ‘very deranged individual.’
Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a statement following the shooting.
‘While the details of this horrific act are still under investigation, Cecilia and I want to send our sincerest thoughts and prayers to all those who have been affected by this evil act.
‘I want to thank law enforcement for their response and ask that all Texans pray for the Sutherland Springs community during this time of mourning and loss.’
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement: ‘The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Sutherland Springs as tragic reports come out of First Baptist Church.’
‘Please join Angela and me as we pray for those impacted by this horrific shooting,’ Paxton said.
Texas Sen Ted Cruz tweeted: ‘Keeping all harmed in Sutherland Springs in our prayers and grateful for our brave first responders on the scene.’
‘It’s something we all say does not happen in small communities, although we found out today it does,’ said Joe Tackitt, the sheriff of Wilson County, which includes Sutherland Springs, in a press conference.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Ashley Collman