A man thrown out of the U.S. Air Force for beating his wife and child shot killed 26 people in a rural Texas church where his in-laws worshipped before fatally shooting himself, officials said, in the latest in a string of U.S. mass shootings.
Gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, walked into the white-steepled First Baptist Church in rural Sutherland Springs carrying an assault rifle and wearing black tactical gear, then opened fire during a Sunday prayer service. He wounded at least 20 others, officials said.
After he left the church, two local residents, at least one of whom was armed, chased him in their vehicles and exchanged gunfire, and Kelley crashed his car and shot himself to death, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CBS News in an interview on Monday morning.
"At this time we believe that he had a self-inflicted gunshot wound," Tackitt said. He later told CNN, "We know that his ex in-laws or in-laws came to church here from time to time ... They were not here (Sunday)."
Mental health issues
A former girlfriend, Brittany Adcock, said in a phone interview they had dated for about four months when he was 18 and she was 13 nearly a decade ago, and that he had harassed her long after that.
After they broke up, she said, he began calling her constantly and creating fake Facebook profiles to try to connect with her. He last messaged her around six months ago, she said.
At one point, she said she called police to file a complaint, and changed her phone number.
"He just started getting really weird," Adcock, now 22, said.
He divorced his first wife in New Mexico in 2012 and married Danielle Shields in Texas in 2014, soon after his discharge, according to state records.
Texas officials on Monday said there had been a "domestic situation" involving his in-laws and that Kelley had sent "threatening" text messages. Attempts to reach Shields and her parents were unsuccessful.
Shields and Kelley lived for some time in Colorado Springs, where Kelley was cited for cruelty to animals, according to records. The misdemeanor case was dismissed after Kelley paid a fine, according to court records.
Gun debate rages
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made headlines Sunday night when he told Fox News that only more guns can stop gun violence. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
“All I can say is in Texas, at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry,” Paxton said. “There’s always the opportunity that the gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”
When Fox News anchor Eric Shawn disagreed with Paxton saying that Church and guns are “two potentially diametrically opposed concepts," Paxton responded by insisting only more guns in church or “at least arming some of the parishioners so they can respond to something like this.”
The attack came a little more than a month after a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas in the deadliest shooting by a sole gunman in U.S. history.
The initial death toll matched the number of dead in the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a man shot and killed 26 children and educators. Those attacks now stand as the fourth deadliest in the United States.
Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott told CBS there was evidence that Kelley had mental health problems and that he had been denied a Texas gun permit.
"It's clear this is a person who had violent tendencies, who had some challenges, and someone who was a powder keg, seeming waiting to go off," Abbott said.
Abbott and other Republican leaders were quick to say that the attack did not influence their support of gun ownership by U.S. citizens - the right to bear arms protected under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
"This isn't a guns situation. I mean we could go into it but it's a little bit soon to go into it," U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters while on trip to Asia. "But fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise ... it would have been much worse. But this is a mental health problem at the highest level."
Democrats renewed their call to restrict gun ownership following the attack.
"How many more people must die at churches or concerts or schools before we stop letting the @NRA control this country's gun policies," Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.
The victims in Sutherland Springs, a community of fewer than 400 people, located about 40 miles (65 km) east of San Antonio, included the 14-year-old daughter of church pastor Frank Pomeroy, the family told several television stations.
One couple, Joe and Claryce Holcombe, told the Washington Post they lost eight extended family members, including a pregnant granddaughter-in-law and three of her children.
In rural areas like Sutherland Springs, gun ownership is a part of life and the state's Republican leaders for years have balked at gun control, arguing that more firearms among responsible owners make the state safer.
At the suspect’s home located in an isolated area of New Braunfels, about 35 miles (56 km) north of Sutherland Springs, a Comal County Sheriff vehicle blocked the entrance. A "beware of dog" sign was affixed to the gate where a dented mailbox bears the address.
Kelley served in its Logistics Readiness unit at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge in 2014, according to the U.S. Air Force.
Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child, and given a bad-conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction in rank, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said.
Kelley's Facebook page has been deleted, but cached photos show a profile picture where he appeared with two small children. He also posted a photo of what appeared to be an assault rifle, writing a post that read: "She's a bad bitch."
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