Sutherland Springs church shooting victims and their families have reached a $145million settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) after 26 people were massacred in the horrific 2017 incident.
The DOJ’s ‘agreement in principle’ will go to 75 victims and their families who have spent six years mourning the loss of their loved ones as they await the tentative $144.5 million settlement currently ‘pending appeals.’
The settlement still has to be approved by a top Justice Department official and a federal judge, according to the Texas Tribune.
A judge ruled in 2021 that the Air Force was 60 percent negligent for not reporting the Devin Patrick Kelley’s history of domestic violence to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which could’ve prevented him from buying firearms from a federally licensed dealer.
Kelley purchased four guns from federally licensed dealers in Texas and Colorado, three of which he carried into the church. During the shooting, Kelley fired over 450 rounds at worshippers, who tried hiding behind pews, authorities said.
Victims sued the Air Force after the 2017 shooting for failing to report shooter Devin Patrick Kelley’s history of domestic violence to the FBI database
Kelley killed 26 people and injured dozens of others in November 2017 when he shot up Sutherland Springs church. If the military had reported the 2012 domestic violence conviction to the FBI database NICS, it would have prevented Kelley from purchasing firearms from a federally licensed dealer
Dozens of victims sued the Air Force after the 2017 shooting after the military failed to report Kelley’s 2012 conviction for domestic violence to the FBI background check system. Kelley was dismissed from the Air Force over the conviction.
The Air Force failed six times to report information that could have prevented Kelley from purchasing a gun, according to a government report released in 2018.
It blamed gaps in ‘training and compliance measures’ at the time for the lapses and said it made changes to prevent failures in the future.
‘No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,’ Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement on Wednesday. ‘Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.’
On November 5, 2017, Kelley shot and killed two people outside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before walking inside to kill 24 more and then taking his own life.
It was the worst mass shooting in the history of Texas at the time and the worst shooting at a place of worship in American history.
Kelley worked in logistics and supply in the Air Force before being dishonorably discharged in 2014 after he admitted to assaulting his wife and infant stepson in a 2012 court martial.
Kelley took the lives of 26 people (pictured four of them) after firing over 450 rounds at worshippers, who tried hiding behind pews, authorities said
He was able to purchase guns – including three he used in the 2017 massacre – after he was discharged because his past criminal record was not submitted to the FBI database.
US District Judge Xavier Rodriguez in San Antonio said at the time that the Air Force was ’60 percent responsible’ for the massacre.
‘The trial conclusively established that no other individual – not even Kelley’s own parents or partners – knew as much as the United States about the violence that Devin Kelley had threatened to commit and was capable of committing,’ Rodriguez said of the Air Force in his ruling.
Rodriguez also wrote that ‘it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting’ if the information had been entered into the database.
The DOJ admitted on Wednesday that the NICS ‘plays a critical role in combating gun violence’ and said the ‘federal government is always striving to improve the functioning of that system.’
‘The department continues to work actively to combat gun violence as part of its comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy,’ the statement read.
Kelley purchased four guns from federally licensed dealers in Texas and Colorado, three of which he carried into the church (pictured: one of Kelley’s guns)
The Department of Defense inspector general’s report in 2018 detailed Kelley’s decade-long history of violence, interest in guns and menacing of women.
That history culminated in Kelley’s November 2017 attack on the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, the church his wife and mother-in-law attended.
The dead included several children, a pregnant woman and a 77-year-old grandfather.
The report said Air Force investigators who spoke to Kelley failed four separate times to fingerprint him and turn those prints over to the FBI.
The report also revealed the Air Force failed twice to submit its final report of the case to the FBI.
Air Force investigators were not trained to submit fingerprints or the final report to the FBI, the inspector general found.
The Air Force squadron that investigated the assault ‘used on-the-job training as its primary method of instruction for fingerprint collection and submission,’ the report stated.
‘However, this training was insufficient and was not based on any established curriculum or policy requirements.’
The report also details some of the many warning signs against Kelley.
It was the worst mass shooting in the history of Texas at the time (pictured: victims Robert Scott and Karen Marshall pictured in an undated photo)
His first wife, Tessa Kelley, accused him of choking her multiple times and once holding her head under a showerhead and saying: ‘I’m going to waterboard you.’ Waterboarding is an interrogation technique that the United Nations says is considered torture.
After Air Force authorities opened an assault investigation against him, Kelley was ordered to be detained before trial because his commander believed he was ‘dangerous and likely to harm someone if released’.
Kelley had searched online for body armor and weapons, according to the report.
He was later charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty after someone saw him punch a dog several times.
He was also investigated for sexual assault in his hometown of New Braunfels, Texas, but authorities didn’t pursue the investigation in what the local sheriff has since called ‘an error.’
The report also says Kelley was reprimanded in 2012 for using a ‘disparaging word’ against a female supervisor and then denying it.
Four years later, his former supervisor received a Facebook message from Kelley in which he used expletives and said: ‘You should have been put in the ground a long time ago. Better hope I don’t ever see you.’