71°F
weather icon Clear

Texas church gunman sent hostile text messages before attack

Updated November 6, 2017 - 5:26 pm

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — Another senseless act of violence. Another investigation to determine a motive for gun-related massacre that has ripped apart another community.

Barely a month after a lone gunman killed 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas, another individual shot up a house of worship in a rural community in southern Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others.

While law enforcement in Nevada is still looking for a motive in the Las Vegas shooting, the Texas Department of Public Safety said the apparent motive behind the shooting in this rural town 35 miles east of San Antonio was domestic in nature.

The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, sent threatening texts on his cellphone to his mother-in-law before he methodically walked through First Baptist Church here and shot congregants where she worshiped, law enforcement officials said Monday.

The woman was not in the church when the masked gunman attacked, but Freeman Martin, a Texas DPS regional director, said the incidents were connected.

“There was a domestic situation going on in this family,” Martin said.

The Department of Public Safety, which is leading the investigation, has ruled out racial or religious motives in the mass shooting. An FBI agent assisting the investigation also said “at this time we do not have a terror investigation open.”

Law enforcement officials said Kelley was dressed in tactical armor and wearing a mask with a skull face when he walked down the aisle at the church firing an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. He then turned around and continued shooting on his way out of the building, Wilson County Sheriff Joe D. Tackitt Jr. said at a news conference Monday.

As shots rang out, a local resident responded with a semi-automatic rifle and “they engaged in a shootout at the church,” Martin said.

Kelley was shot in the exchange and a high-speed chase ensued. Martin said Kelley used his cellphone to tell his father he was shot and that he didn’t think he would “make it.” The chase ended when Kelley crashed his car.

The cause of death will be determined by a pathologist, Martin said, but evidence at the scene suggests the cause was “self-inflicted.”

2012 court martial

A native of the San Antonio suburb of New Braunfels, Kelley graduated from high school in 2009, according to a district spokeswoman. He enlisted in the Air Force the following year and was assigned to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. He got married in 2011.

But according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek, Kelley faced a court-martial in 2012 on allegations that he abused his wife and a child. According to court-martial documents the Air Force released Monday, Kelley was accused of choking his wife, pulling her hair and kicking her. He also hit the child on the head and body, according to the documents. The Air Force’s former chief prosecutor, Don Christensen, told The New York Times that Kelley fractured the child’s skull.

Kelley was sentenced to 12 months of confinement and ultimately removed from the military with a bad-conduct discharge and a reduction of rank.

Despite his dishonorable discharge in 2014, Kelley purchased four weapons over the past four years — two in Colorado and two in Texas.

The Air Force acknowledged Monday that it didn’t enter Kelley’s criminal history into the federal database used to conduct background checks on citizens looking to purchase a firearm. The lapse prompted the Pentagon to announce a review of whether the problem has gone undetected in other cases across the military.

Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said three of the four weapons Kelley purchased were found on him — a Glock 9-mm handgun, a Ruger .22-caliber handgun and a Ruger semi-automatic assault rifle.

Milanowski said Kelley’s military record and gun purchases were part of the probe.

“We are early in the investigation,” he said.

Kelley’s wife, Tessa Kelley, filed for divorce in 2012, the same year as the court-martial. The divorce was finalized in October 2012.

Kelley also was charged with animal cruelty in Colorado Springs, Colo., after witnesses said he jumped on a dog and began hitting it around the face and neck.

Another community grieves

As in Nevada a month earlier, this rural community is now trying to come to grips with an unexplained tragedy that left mothers, parents and neighbors grieving for loved ones and friends lost in the carnage.

The victims ranged in age from 18 months to 77, and as many as 14 were children, according to law enforcement officials. One family lost eight members.

About 20 other people were wounded. Ten of them were still hospitalized Monday in critical condition.

One of the deceased was 14-year-old Annabelle Pomeroy, daughter of the church pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and wife, Sherri, who were away and not at the church when the shooting occurred.

On Monday they attended to the news conference to ask people to remember all of the victims of the deadly shooting.

“We lost more than ‘Belle yesterday,” Sherri Pomeroy told the news conference. “Most of our church family is gone.”

Church member Nick Uhlig, 34, who was not at Sunday’s service, told the Associated Press that his cousin, who was eight months’ pregnant, and her in-laws were among those killed. He later told the Houston Chronicle that three of his cousin’s children also were slain.

Vice President Mike Pence said he will travel to Texas on Wednesday to meet with victims of the church shooting.

’Violent tendencies’

President Donald Trump, in Asia, called the killer “deranged” and said it wasn’t “a guns situation” that was behind the mass shooting

As he did following last month’s Las Vegas massacre of 58 people, Trump resisted any discussion of gun control during a news conference in Tokyo, where he was beginning his first presidential trip to Asia. Instead, Trump characterized the shooting as a “mental health problem at the highest level.”

”This was a very — based on preliminary reports — a very deranged individual. A lot of problems over a long period of time,” Trump said when asked about the shooting as he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a joint news conference.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, and local officials also noted the killer’s past record.

“This is a person who had violent tendencies,” Abbott said in an interview with CBS “This Morning.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called Kelley “the kind of evil that would look at a small child and callously murder that child.”

Cruz said Kelley had worshipped in the church before.

The shooting occurred in the congressional district of U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, who said his office was working with law enforcement to carry out the investigation. U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., whose district includes the Las Vegas Strip where the Nevada shooting took place, reached out to Cuellar to pledge her support.

Titus is also co-sponsor of House legislation that would give the ATF the authority to tightly regulate “bump stocks,” used by Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, to accelerate the rate of fire on semi-automatic rifles used in his Oct. 1 attack.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Crime Videos
CCSD police on the arrest of Deamonte Warren - VIDEO
CCSD police arrested Chaparral High School custodian Deamonte Warren on Friday on three counts of a school employee having sex with a student and an additional count of providing alcohol to a minor. (Courtesy CCSD Police)
Woman charged with sex trafficking an 11-year-old girl on the Strip (Michael Quine)
Gigi Mitchell faces seven felony charges including sex trafficking and child abuse for bringing an 11-year-old girl to the Las Vegas Strip to work as a prostitute.
Bel Air Drive Officer Involved Shooting Presser - Video
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly goes over the officer-involved shooting on Bel Air Drive.
Former Las Vegas police officer get 25 life sentences for sexually abusing child
Former Las Vegas Police officer Bret Theil was sentences to 25 consecutive life sentences at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, May 15, 2019, for sexually abusing a child over a decade. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Man pushed off bus in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas police arrested 25-year-old Cadesha Bishop on May 6, after she allegedly pushed Serge Fournier, 74, off of a parked bus near Fremont Street and 13th Street about 4:50 p.m. March 21.(Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
$1 million bail set for mother charged with drowning 2-year-old daughter
The 44-year-old mother who police say drowned her 2-year-old daughter in a bathtub in a northeast Las Vegas apartment on Saturday made her first court appearance on Tuesday, May 14th.
Officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child appears in court
Matthew James Terry, a Las Vegas police officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child, appears in court Monday morning, May 13, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police seek hit-and-run driver
A motorcycle officer pulled over a Mercedes SUV, and after the officer came to a stop, it shifted into reverse, intentionally hitting the officer.
Thedrick Andres becomes Henderson Police Department acting chief
Henderson Police Department Acting Chief Thedrick Andres speaks about his goals in his new position at the Henderson Police headquarters, Monday, April 29, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2 dead, 1 wounded after east valley neighborhood shooting
One man and one woman are dead and another man wounded after a shooting Thursday afternoon in an east valley neighborhood.
Bail denied for former police detective charged with murder
Bail was denied Tuesday for former Metropolitan Police Department detective, Pamela Rene Bordeaux who is accused of fatally shooting her daughter’s ex-husband during supervised visitation with his child.
Third suspect in death of California doctor appears in court
The third and final suspect in the killing of a California doctor, Jon Kennison, 27, appears in court Friday, April 19, 2019. Kennison, Kelsey Nichole Turner, a former model, and Diana Pena, face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Richard Cleaves of Pahrump arrested in burglary on former Binion property
Updated press release regarding burglary on a former Binion property: Richard Cleaves, 56 of Pahrump, has been arrested on a warrant for burglary, conspiracy to commit grand larceny, and destruction of property. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Judge denies bail for suspect charged in the killing of California doctor
Diana Pena, one of three people charged in the killing of a California doctor, is being held without bail after her fingerprints were found on the car where Dr. Thomas Burchard's body was discovered.
Ex-NFL player and girlfriend held without bail in child’s death
Former professional football player Cierre Wood and his girlfriend, Amy Taylor, face charges of murder and child abuse in the death of Taylor's 5-year-old daughter. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP identifies man who was shot by trooper on Mount Charleston
Nevada Highway Patrol updates the media on the April 2, 2019 officer involved shooting on Mount Charleston. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas court grants '90 Day Fiancé' defendant continuance
"90 Day Fiance" stars Colt Johnson and his mother Debra left the Las Vegas Justice Center Thursday, after the court granted Larissa dos Santos Lima a continuance in her misdemeanor case, in which she is accused of domestic violence against Colt. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Details released on in-custody death
Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank addresses media about details of an in-custody death at Clark County Detention Center on March 31. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man hurt in shooting with Nevada troopers at Mount Charleston
A man was injured in a shooting involving Nevada Highway Patrol troopers Tuesday afternoon at Mount Charleston on state Route 157 near Echo Trail. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Officer wounds inmate during escape attempt
An officer fired on an inmate who stole a vehicle and tried to flee, ramming several cars and leading officers on a chase until he ran out of gas.
Man fatally shot during a 'beer skip'
A store clerk is being questioned after a man was fatally shot during a robbery at a gas station Friday. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Las Vegas police give details on fatal shooting
Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer gives a briefing on a fatal shooting near downtown Las Vegas that occurred on March 27, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas community pays tribute to boy killed by car
The community joined friends and family at Wilbur & Theresa Faiss Park, Wednesday evening, to remember the boy who was struck and killed by a car crossing South Fort Apache Road from Faiss Park, near West Maule Avenue, on Monday. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Person of Interest Found For Downtown Las Vegas Bar - Video
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is seeking help to find a person of interest in a potential homicide case at a bar in downtown Las Vegas.
Metro briefs media on OIS near downtown Las Vegas
Police address media about officer-involved shooting that started on Maryland and Vegas Valley, and concluded downtown, near the Golden Nugget.
Update on OIS at Vegas Valley and Maryland
The incident began at the Steinberg Diagnostic Medical parking lot and ended downtown.
Amy And Spencer Powell Recount Hit And Run
Amy Powell and her son Spencer recount the day Spencer was hit by a truck while riding his bike. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah arrested in Amarillo, TX
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah was arrested in Amarillo, TX on a Nye County warrant for open murder, burglary, obtaining money under false pretense, use of credit card w/o owner consent, and destruction of evidence. (Nye County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)
Metro Presser For OIS 6 (Full)
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Metro Presser For OIS 6
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Domestic disturbance call ends in suicide
A man died by suicide after police tried negotiating with him outside of his ex-girlfriend’s home on March 13. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by Las Vegas police
A 20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by a Las Vegas officer on Saturday night is also accused of burglarizing a Boys & Girls Club minutes before the shooting.
Commercial Robbery On 3000 Block Of North Las Vegas Blvd - VIDEO
On February 19th, 2019, at approximately 10:23 am, a robbery occurred to a business located on the 3000 block of North Las Vegas Boulevard. The pictured suspect entered the business, approached the counter and pointed a firearm at the victim demanding money. The victim complied and the suspect fled with an undisclosed amount of money. No injuries were reported.
THE LATEST