Skip to main content

NPR

Texas Church Shooter May Have Been Motivated To Kill By 'Domestic Situation'

A "domestic situation" might lie behind the massacre that unfolded at a small South Texas church during Sunday services, authorities say. At a news conference Monday, law enforcement officials explained that the gunman — identified by police as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley — had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law, who is a parishioner at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Currently, officials do not believe the attack was racially or religiously motivated.

Authorities did lay out a detailed timeline of events.

At about 11:20 a.m. local time, a suspicious man was reported near a convenience store across the street from the church. Dressed in black tactical gear and toting an assault-style rifle, the man walked toward the church as a service was underway.

The gunman opened fire even before he entered the building, unloading bullets into the walls from outside. Then, he stepped into the house of worship and continued his attack, killing 23 parishioners inside. Two people were killed outside the church, and another person died on the way to the hospital.

Officials say that not long afterward, Kelley left the building and headed toward his car — at which point a local resident, having observed the attack, drew a weapon of his own and fired on Kelley. Now under fire, Kelley dropped his rife on the ground and attempted to escape by driving away.

Eventually, he was found dead in his vehicle, crashed off the road in a neighboring county. Authorities believe Kelley died of a self-inflicted wound, sitting beside two other guns.

Now, investigators are seeking to understand at least one important question: how, exactly, Kelley obtained those guns. According to federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kelley purchased four weapons over the span of four years — at a rate of one gun a year.

But officials say Kelley did not have a license to carry them — and his military service history further complicates the situation. NPR's Scott Neuman explains:

"He had been enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was based in New Mexico from 2010, where he reportedly served in logistics readiness at Holloman Air Force Base until receiving a bad conduct discharge in 2014, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek tells NPR in an email.

"She says he was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and child, sentenced to confinement for one year and reduced in rank to E-1.

"The [San Antonio] Express-News says that Kelley unsuccessfully appealed his conviction in a military court in 2014."


It remains unclear at the moment whether Kelley's bad conduct discharge should have precluded him from purchasing those guns.

For now, crucial questions also continue to linger about Kelley's relationship with his in-laws, and authorities have not yet released the names of the victims — though they did add that the victims inside the church range in age from just 18 months to 77 years old. The official release of those names must wait for authorities to inform the victims' families.

In such a small town as Sutherland Springs — a rural community with fewer than 700 people and just a few roads — one theme continues to arise among witnesses and residents: Everyone here knows everyone else. In such a tight community, the devastation is likely to touch the lives of everyone nearby.

"Everyone I spoke to at the vigil [for victims Sunday night] knew someone in that church," David Martin Davies, a reporter with member station KSTX, told Morning Edition on Monday.

"And not only are they mourning the loss, but they're also very worried about people that are still in surgery trying to recover — because many people have multiple gunshot wounds, and they don't know what the future holds for them."

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.

CLOSE X