Gunman kills 20, injures 26 in the rural Texas town of Sutherland Springs

Photo courtesy of theblaze.com.

By Katherine Coble || News Editor

The rural town of Sutherland Springs, Texas – population 600 – was devastated on November 5 after a gunman entered the First Baptist Church and opened fire. 26 churchgoers were killed and 20 were wounded in the attack. It is the deadliest mass shooting in state history and the deadliest shooting in an American place of worship in modern history, surpassing the racially-motivated Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in 2015.

The shooting began around 11:20am on Sunday, November 5, when the masked gunman parked outside a gas station across from the First Baptist Church and entered wearing a black mask and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. He then opened fire on the crowd of churchgoers, screaming obscenities and often returning to shoot at crying children who had previously been injured, according to eyewitness reports. Among the killed were a pregnant woman and her unborn child, the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor, and a 77-year-old man and his wife of 44 years. Nearly half of the victims were children and eight belonged to the same extended family. The shooting lasted seven minutes and was captured on video by a camera set to record the services and air them on the church’s website. Law enforcement have reviewed the video but have so far declined to announce whether or not it will ever be publicly released.

The shooting came to a close after the gunman left the church of his own accord. He was then confronted by a local named Stephen Willeford. Willeford, a former firearms instructor for the National Rifle Association, shot the gunman twice before he could enter his vehicle and flee. The gunman was found by law enforcement in a neighboring county. He had called his father to say goodbye before killing himself with a self-inflicted shot to the head.

The gunman in question has been identified by police as former U.S. Air Force member Devin Kelly, a 26-year-old white man from New Braunfels, Texas, a small city north of San Antonio and a 50-minute drive from Sutherland Springs. Kelly was convicted five years ago of domestic assault charges for assaulting his wife and fracturing his stepson’s skull. He made death threats against the Air Force officers who charged him and, according to interviews with his first wife, repeatedly made death threats against her and her family following their divorce in 2012. Kelly was additionally investigated for sexual assault and rape against his then-girlfriend, although no charges were filed and he eventually married the girlfriend. He was convinced of cruelty against animals while they lived together in Colorado in 2014 and was the subject of a protection order from an El Paso, TX resident in 2015. Kelly’s second wife occasionally attended the First Baptist Church and they were estranged at the time of the shooting. Although his second wife was not in attendance on the morning of the shooting, her grandmother was and she died in the attack.

Federal laws make it illegal for anyone to sell or give a gun to someone who has been convinced of domestic violence against their child or spouse. Kelly should not have been able to purchase firearms because of his 2012 conviction regarding his first wife and her step-son. However, the U.S. Air Force has said that this information was not entered properly into the National Criminal Information Center database, which is used to run background checks on potential gun-owners. Consequently, Kelly passed four separate background checks and was able to purchase a firearm each time. The Air Force is now looking into the loophole and attempting to resolve it.

President Donald Trump reacted to the shootings in a press conference by saying that Kelly was ““a very deranged individual, a lot of problems.” He repeatedly insisted that the shooting was not a “gun situation” and that “there would have been no difference” to the death toll if Texas or federal gun laws were stricter.

Katherine Coble is the news editor. Her email is kcoble@fandm.edu.

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