Sutherland Springs shooting: Air force veteran guns down 26 in Texas church, takes own life

Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old from Houston who had served in the US Air Force but was court-martialled, shot at a church congregation with an assault rifle and killed 26 people.

world Updated: Nov 06, 2017 23:05 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Sutherland Springs,Texas‬,‪Sutherland Springs‬
A candlelight vigil following the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 people dead.(AFP)

A lone gunman opened fire on a church congregation during a Sunday morning service in a rural town in Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 more in yet another mass shooting in the United States a little more than a month after the massacre in Las Vegas.

The victims ranged in age from five to 72, and included the 14-year-old daughter of the pastor of the church, a pregnant woman and children. Authorities said 23 people died within the church at Sutherland Springs, two outside and one in hospital. Some of the injured were in a serious condition.

The shooter, who took his own life and was found in his car a short distance from the church, was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, a 26-year-old from Houston.

President Donald Trump, away on a 12-day five-nation tour of Asia, told reporters in Tokyo the shooting was more about mental health issues and less about “a guns situation” as the shooter seemed to a “very deranged” individual.

He said: “But this isn’t a guns situation. I mean, we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. But, fortunately, somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it would have been – as bad it was, it would have been much worse.”

Wilson county sheriff Joe Tackitt said he did not know Kelley’s motive, but the shooter’s in-laws lived in a nearby town and had previously attended the church on several occasions.

Freeman Martin, a public safety department official, told reporters on Monday: “This was not racially motivated, it wasn’t over religious beliefs, it was a domestic situation going on...The suspect’s mother-in-law attended this church. We know that he had made threatening texts and we can’t go into detail into that domestic situation that is continuing to be vetted and thoroughly investigated.”

Kelley had served in the US Air Force but was court-martialled in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child. He was sentenced to 12 months’ confinement and discharged with a “bad conduct” mark in 2014.

Dressed in all-black tactical gear and a ballistic vest, Kelley was seen leaving his vehicle at a gas station at about 11.20 am. He began shooting at the church with an assault rifle as he approached it, and continued as he circled to its right and entered while the service was underway.

Kelley dropped his rifle and exited the church, when an armed local resident engaged him in a brief exchange of fire during which the shooter used a pistol. Freeman Martin, an official of the department of public safety, told reporters that Kelley then got into his car and fled.

Two armed local residents pursued Kelley in a vehicle, and his car ran off the road a short distance away and crashed. Kelley then shot himself. Sheriff Tackitt told the media: “At this time we believe that he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Kelley had used a military-style Ruger AR assault rifle in the attack, and had more weapons in his vehicle, officials said.

Sutherland Springs is a small rural community of about 680 people – residents told reporters it was a place where nothing ever happened and everyone knew everyone. The church, of the protestant First Baptist Church that is the second largest religious grouping in the US after Roman Catholics, is a place for friends to gather and meet every weekend.

Some Americans responded to news of the shooting with numbing weariness.

“Once again, we will pray and mourn the fallen,” David Axelrod, president Barack Obama’s political strategist and political commentator, tweeted. “Our leaders will express the grief of the nation. And do nothing.”

On October 1, Stephen Paddock, a high-stakes regular at casinos, fatally shot 58 people and wounded more than 500, using an arsenal of rifles, some of them modified to fire at a quicker rate, from his room in a hotel overlooking an open-air country music festival. His motive remains unclear.

Asked about gun safety laws at the time, Trump had said there will be time for that discussion, but later. He never got around to it.

Though not always a gun rights enthusiast, Trump has found it politically expedient, from the time he entered the race for the White House, to portray himself as someone on the right side of the Republican Party’s base and the National Rifle Association, which leads the powerful gun lobby that has stymied every attempt to reform gun laws, even those backed by conservative gun owners.

First Published: Nov 06, 2017 22:38 IST