ReutersSUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) — The gunman who shot 26 worshipers to death and wounded 20 others at a Texas church was embroiled in a domestic dispute with his in-laws and had been sending threatening messages to his wife’s mother before the massacre, officials said Monday.
The killer, Devin Kelley, 26, was previously convicted by court-martial of assaulting his first wife and stepson while serving in the U.S. Air Force and spent a year in detention before his bad-conduct discharge in 2014, according to the Pentagon.
The Air Force acknowledged on Monday that it failed to enter Kelley’s 2012 domestic violence offense into a U.S. government database used by licensed gun dealers for conducting background checks on firearms purchasers.
A sporting goods retail chain has said Kelley passed background checks when he bought a gun in 2016 and a second firearm the following year.
Details about Kelley’s background of violent, disturbing behavior emerged a day after Sunday’s rampage in southeastern Texas, which ranks as the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in the state and one of the five most lethal in modern U.S. history.
Kelley was found dead, apparently of gunshot wounds, after a failed attempt to make his getaway from the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, authorities said.
Stepping out of the church, Kelley was confronted and shot three times by an armed area resident. Kelley then fled in a sport utility vehicle as the resident waved down a passing motorist. The two good Samaritans then chased after the suspect at high speeds, authorities said.
Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, credited the man who shot Kelley as “our Texas hero.”
Kelley called his father during the pursuit to say he had been shot and might not survive, officials said. He later crashed his vehicle, shot himself and died, they added. It was not clear if he died of the self-inflicted wound or those sustained in the gunfight, officials said.
It appeared that family problems may have been a factor in Sunday’s carnage. Kelley was involved in a domestic dispute with the family of Danielle Shields, a woman he married in 2014, and the situation had flared up, according to officials and public records.
“There was a domestic situation going on within the family and the in-laws,” Martin told reporters outside the church on Monday. “The mother-in-law attended the church ... she had received threatening text messages from him.”
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tacit said the family members were not in the church during Kelley’s attack.
Kelley himself had attended services at the church at times, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters at the scene.
“My understanding is that this depraved madman had worshiped at this church before,” Cruz said.