Texas church shooter Devin Kelley escaped from a mental health institution in 2012 after being court martialled on serious domestic violence charges, according to files from the El Paso Police Department.
That information, along with other aspects of Kelley’s violent past, has resurfaced in the two days since he opened fire at the small Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, killing 26 worshippers and wounding more.
Kelley was discharged from the United States Air Force in 2014 after assaulting his then-wife and stepson.
Documents show that before his charges were heard in 2012, Kelley escaped from his detainment at Peak Behavioral Health Systems. Law enforcement authorities were able to detain Kelley and return him to the facility.
An individual with knowledge of Kelley’s circumstances also claims he made death threats against his Air Force superiors around the same time period.
Kelley eventually accepted a guilty plea deal, in which he admitted assault and battery against his former partner, and striking his stepson “with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm.”
The attack fractured the boy’s skull and resulted in internal bleeding.
Notably, the plea deal also dropped allegations that Kelley had committed serious firearms offences.
Kelley served twelve months in detention over the assault charges, and was expelled from the Air Force with a bad conduct discharge in 2014.
The domestic violence charges – let alone the scrapped firearms charges – should have barred Kelley from purchasing the semiautomatic rifle believed to have been used in the shooting, but the Air Force admitted on Monday they had failed to register his conviction in the appropriate federal database.
Yesterday, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said “the Air Force has launched a review of how the service handled the criminal records of former Airman Devin P Kelley following his 2012 domestic violence conviction.”
Stunningly, despite being able to purchase the weapon, Kelley was denied a license to actually carry it – a process which does not totally overlap with background checks required to purchase a firearm.
Speaking to CNN, legal analyst James Gagliano said “it is utterly baffling and unconscionable that someone can own a weapon and not be allowed to carry it.”
As authorities look into how Kelley was able to obtain such a high-powered firearm despite his conviction, the small Texan town he terrorised is still coming to terms with its loss. One of his victims, Crystal Holcombe, was reportedly eight months pregnant at the time of her death.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic or family violence, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732.