SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX — A Texas family that lost eight members, including a woman who was pregnant, in a mass church shooting has filed a wrongful death claim against the US military, asserting the Air Force’s negligence helped the gunman acquire his weapons.
Joe and Claryce Holcombe allege in their claim that the Air Force should have reported gunman Devin Patrick Kelley’s domestic violence conviction to a federal agency, which would have stopped him from legally purchasing firearms.
The Air Force failed to follow its policies and that “directly caused this horrific tragedy,” the claim says.
“We want to see this sort of thing not happen again, and I think if the Air Force had have done its job properly this wouldn’t have happened,” Joe Holcombe told CNN affiliate KABB/WOAI.
Kelley killed 25 people and an unborn child the morning of November 5 as the congregation at the small First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs worshipped.
“Although (Kelley) undoubtedly ‘pulled the trigger’ that resulted in injuries and death of J.B. Holcombe and others, the failures of the US Air Force, and others, allowed the shooter to purchase, own and/or possess the semiautomatic rifle, ammunition and body armor he used,” the claim says. J.B. Holcombe, 60, was Joe and Claryce Holcombe’s son. He was shot in the back as he walked to the pulpit, the claim says.
Holcombe family attorney Rob Ammons told Kabb/WOAI: “I think anyone, even Joe Holcombe, who is a member of the National Rifle Association and owns firearms, everyone would agree, we don’t want guns in the hands of people like Devin Patrick Kelley.”
Kelley served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico starting in 2010. He was court-martialed in 2012 for two counts of Article 128 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, assault on his spouse and assault on their child, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
Kelley received a bad conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction in rank, she said.
The Air Force did not provide a date of the discharge, but his military record indicates he left the service in May 2014.
“Initial information indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations,” an Air Force statement issued two days after the shooting said.
The Air Force said Tuesday that preliminary findings by its inspector general confirmed the proper personnel at Holloman Air Force Base did not report required information to civilian law enforcement in Kelley’s case.
A review that began after the killings is ongoing but has found the error is not “an isolated incident and similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations.”
The Air Force statement said changes have been made so far to information verification, software, checklists and training.
The service is going back through records from as far back as 2002, the statement said.
It is unclear what financial compensation the Holcombe family is asking for in the death of J.B. Holcombe; the figure in the claim is redacted.
Kelley was found dead in his vehicle after he drove away from the church, being chased by two good Samaritans — including one who had wounded Kelley.