‘The Lord saved me’

Crim­i­nal his­tory should have stopped killer from buy­ing weapons

Simcoe Reformer - Times-Reformer - - WORLD NEWS - JIM VER­TUNO, WILL WEIS­SERT and PAUL J. WE­BER

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — The gun­man who killed 26 peo­ple at a small-town Texas church went aisle to aisle look­ing for vic­tims and shot cry­ing ba­bies at point-blank range, a cou­ple who sur­vived the at­tack said.

Rosanne So­lis and Joaquin Ramirez were sit­ting near the en­trance to the First Bap­tist Church on Sun­day when they heard what sounded like fire­crack­ers and re­al­ized some­one was shoot­ing at the tiny wood-frame build­ing.

In an in­ter­view with San An­to­nio TV sta­tion KSAT, So­lis said con­gre­gants be­gan scream­ing and dropped to the floor. She could see bul­lets fly­ing into the car­pet and fel­low wor­ship­pers fall­ing down, blood­ied, af­ter get­ting hit.

For a mo­ment, the at­tack seemed to stop, and wor­ship­pers thought that po­lice had ar­rived to con­front the gun­man. But then he en­tered the church and re­sumed “shoot­ing hard” at help­less fam­i­lies, So­lis said.

The gun­man checked each aisle for more vic­tims, in­clud­ing ba­bies who cried out amid the noise and smoke, Ramirez said. The cou­ple sur­vived by hud­dling close to the ground and play­ing dead. So­lis was shot in the arm. Ramirez was hit by shrap­nel.

“The lord saved me be­cause I know it was my last day,” So­lis told the sta­tion.

About 20 other peo­ple were wounded. In­ves­ti­ga­tors col­lected at least 15 empty mag­a­zines that held 30 rounds each at the scene, sug­gest­ing the as­sailant fired at least 450 rounds.

The gun­man, Devin Pa­trick Kel­ley, had a his­tory of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence that spanned years be­fore the at­tack and was able buy weapons be­cause the Air Force did not sub­mit his crim­i­nal his­tory to the FBI as re­quired by mil­i­tary rules.

Air Force spokes­woman Ann Ste­fanek said the ser­vice is launch­ing a re­view of its han­dling of the case and tak­ing a com­pre­hen­sive look at its data­bases to en­sure other cases have been re­ported cor­rectly.

If Kel­ley’s past of­fences had been prop­erly shared, they would have pre­vented him from buy­ing a gun, the Air Force ac­knowl­edged Mon­day.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also re­vealed that Kel­ley had sent threat­en­ing text mes­sages to his mother-in-law, a mem­ber of the church, be­fore the at­tack, and that sher­iff’s deputies had re­sponded to a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence call in 2014 at his home in­volv­ing a girl­friend who be­came his sec­ond wife.

Later that year, he was for­mally ousted from the Air Force for a 2012 as­sault on his ex-wife in which he choked her and struck her son hard enough to frac­ture his skull.

In the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, pop­u­la­tion 400, griev­ing towns­peo­ple reeled from their losses. The dead ranged from 18 months to 77 years old and in­cluded mul­ti­ple mem­bers of some fam­i­lies.

“Our church was not com­prised of mem­bers or parish­ioners. We were a very close fam­ily,” said the pas­tor’s wife Sherri Pomeroy, who, like her hus­band, was out of town when the at­tack hap­pened. “Now most of our church fam­ily is gone.”

The cou­ple’s 14-year-old daugh­ter, Annabelle Pomeroy, was among those killed.

Kel­ley’s mother-in-law some­times at­tended ser­vices there, but the sher­iff said she was not at church Sun­day.

The mas­sacre ap­peared to stem from a do­mes­tic sit­u­a­tion, Texas Depart­ment of Public Safety Re­gional Di­rec­tor Free­man Martin said. He did not elab­o­rate.

Based on ev­i­dence at the scene, in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve Kel­ley died of a self-in­flicted gun­shot wound af­ter he was chased by by­standers, one of whom was armed, and crashed his car.

The 26-year-old shooter also used his cell­phone to tell his fa­ther he had been shot and did not think he would sur­vive, au­thor­i­ties said.

In 2014, he was charged with mis­de­meanour an­i­mal cru­elty in Colorado af­ter a neigh­bour re­ported him for beat­ing a dog. Kel­ley ini­tially re­fused to speak with of­fi­cers about the in­ci­dent. He de­nied abus­ing the an­i­mal but com­plied with an or­der to pay al­most $370 in resti­tu­tion. He was also the fo­cus of a pro­tec­tive or­der is­sued in Colorado in 2015.

Kel­ley lived in New Braun­fels, about 55 km north of the church.

As he left the church, the shooter was con­fronted by an armed res­i­dent — later iden­ti­fied as Stephen Wille­ford — who had grabbed his own ri­fle and ex­changed fire with Kel­ley.

Wille­ford had help from an­other res­i­dent, John­nie Lan­gen­dorff, who said he was driv­ing past the church as the shoot­ing hap­pened. Wille­ford asked to get in Lan­gen­dorff ’s truck, and the pair fol­lowed as the gun­man drove away.

The pur­suit reached speeds up to 145 km/h. Wille­ford told Arkansas TV sta­tions KHBS/KHOG that he kept a 911 op­er­a­tor ad­vised of the sit­u­a­tion dur­ing the chase. The gun­man even­tu­ally lost con­trol of his ve­hi­cle and crashed.

Wille­ford walked up to the ve­hi­cle with his gun drawn, and the at­tacker did not move. Po­lice ar­rived about five min­utes later, Lan­gen­dorff said.

The as­sailant was dead in his ve­hi­cle. He had three gun­shot wounds — two from where the armed man hit him in the leg and the torso and the third self-in­flicted wound to the head, au­thor­i­ties said.

“There was no think­ing about it. There was just do­ing. That was the key to all this. Act now. Ask ques­tions later,” Lan­gen­dorff said.

MARK RAL­STON/GETTY IM­AGES

A row of crosses stands for the 26 peo­ple killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The U.S. Air Force says it failed to fol­low pro­ce­dure and did not sub­mit the gun­man’s crim­i­nal his­tory to the FBI, which would have stopped him from buy­ing guns.

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