Tuesday December 11th, 2018 5:33PM

Texas church gunman once escaped from mental health center

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — The gunman who carried out the massacre at a small-town Texas church briefly escaped from a mental health center in New Mexico in 2012 and got in trouble for bringing guns onto a military base and threatening his superiors there, police reports indicate.

Devin Patrick Kelley was also named as a suspect in a 2013 sexual assault in his Texas hometown of New Braunfels, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the scene of the church attack.

The records that emerged Tuesday add up to at least three missed opportunities that might have offered law enforcement a way to stop Kelley from having access to guns long before he slaughtered much of the congregation in the middle of a Sunday service. Authorities said the death toll of 26 included the unborn baby of one of the women killed. Kelley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was chased by bystanders and crashed his car.

The Air Force confirmed Tuesday that Kelley had been treated in the facility after he was placed under pretrial confinement stemming from a court-martial on charges that he assaulted his then-wife and hit her child hard enough to fracture the boy's skull.

Involuntary commitment to a mental institution would have been grounds to deny him a weapon provided that records of his confinement were submitted to the federal database used to conduct background checks on people who try to purchase guns.

Kelley was also caught trying to bring guns onto Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico when he was stationed there, according to an El Paso, Texas, police report released Tuesday.

While in the military, Kelley, who was 21 at the time, made death threats against superior officers, according to the June 2012 report, which also mentioned the military charges. He was eventually sentenced to 12 months of confinement for the assault.

The Air Force acknowledged Monday that it did not enter Kelley's criminal history into the federal database as required by military rules, another way he could have been denied a weapon.

Had Kelley been convicted of sexual assault, he would likely have been prevented from purchasing a gun because federal guidelines prohibit sales to anyone convicted of a felony punishable by more than one year in prison. The Comal County sheriff said he was reviewing whether his department mishandled the sexual assault investigation.

Authorities recovered a Ruger AR-556 rifle at the church and two handguns from the shooter's vehicle. All three weapons were purchased by Kelley, said Fred Milanowski, the agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Houston.

The El Paso report notes that Kelley was committed to a mental health facility in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, but at some point escaped and was later found by police at a bus station in downtown El Paso in June 2012.

Deputies were called to Kelley's home in New Braunfels in June 2013 about the rape case and investigated for three months, Comal County Sheriff Mark Reynolds said. But it appeared that they stopped investigating after they believed Kelley left Texas and moved to Colorado. Reynolds said the case was then listed as inactive.

The sheriff said he was trying to determine how deputies came to believe Kelley had moved and why they did not continue to pursue the case, either in Colorado or after Kelley returned to the area later. Deputies were called to the same house in February 2014 to investigate a domestic violence report involving Kelley and Danielle Shields, his girlfriend at the time, whom he married two months later.

"The last information that we have is the suspect moved to Colorado and then the investigation seems to have tapered off," Reynolds said Tuesday. "That's what we're looking into."

The district attorney for Comal County said in an interview that she became aware of the sexual assault case Monday before the records were released to The Associated Press and other media.

"That case was never presented to our office," Jennifer Tharp said.

The records from Comal County also describe a burglary that Kelley's father, Michael, reported on his property the day after the sexual assault report. Michael Kelley told an officer that someone had taken a laptop computer and hard drive belonging to his son from a barn he had converted into an apartment for Devin Kelley. But Kelley said his son was unavailable to talk to police because he had been in a traffic accident that morning.

None of the documents explains whether there was a connection between the sexual assault report and the burglary report.

Meanwhile at the First Baptist Church in tiny Sutherland Springs, investigators continued analyzing a gruesome crime scene and tried to gain access to the shooter's cellphone, a longstanding challenge for the FBI in thousands of other cases.

Authorities aimed to conclude the crime-scene investigation at the church by Wednesday evening. Investigators have no reason to believe anyone conspired with Kelley, who acted alone, said Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin.

Martin repeated earlier statements that the shooting appeared to stem from a domestic dispute involving Kelley and his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended services at the church but was not present on Sunday.

"We don't know what he was thinking or what was in his mind," Martin said. "There was conflict. He was upset with the mother-in-law."

The gunman's phone was flown to an FBI lab for analysis, but agents have yet to access it, said Christopher Combs, who is in charge of the agency's San Antonio division.

The inability to access the shooter's phone highlights a longstanding frustration of the FBI. Director Christopher Wray said last month that in the first 11 months of the fiscal year, agents were unable to access the content inside more than 6,900 mobile devices, an issue he said stymies investigations.

The FBI and other law enforcement officials have long complained about being unable to unlock and recover evidence from cellphones and other devices seized from suspects even if authorities have a warrant. Technology companies have refused to help, insisting they must protect customers' digital privacy.

The long-simmering debate was on display in 2016, when the Justice Department tried to force Apple to unlock an encrypted cellphone used by a gunman in an attack in San Bernardino, California. The department eventually relented after the FBI said it paid an unidentified vendor who provided a tool to unlock the phone and no longer needed Apple's assistance, avoiding a court showdown.


Merchant reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington, John Mone in Sutherland Springs, Diana Heidgerd and Reese Dunklin in Dallas, Paul J. Weber in New Braunfels, and AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York contributed to this report.


Sign up for the AP's weekly newsletter showcasing our best reporting from the Midwest and Texas: .

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News
© Copyright 2018
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Texas church gunman once escaped from mental health center
Texas church gunman escaped from mental health center in 2012
5:50PM ( 30 minutes ago )
Texas massacre is seized on by both sides in gun debate
The Texas church massacre seems to fit whatever opinion one has about guns
3:59PM ( 2 hours ago )
Latest: Gunman had made death threats on military superiors
A 2012 police report says that the Texas church gunman had made death threats against his military superiors and had been caught trying to sneak firearms onto an Air Force base in New Mexico where he had been stationed
3:06PM ( 3 hours ago )
U.S. News
Former star pitcher Halladay killed in Florida plane crash
Former star pitcher Roy Halladay has been killed in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico
6:02PM ( 18 minutes ago )
APNewsBreak: Anti-gay-marriage clerk to seek re-election
The Kentucky county clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples will run for re-election in 2018
6:01PM ( 19 minutes ago )
Latest: 2013 sex assault case involving gunman under review
Authorities in the hometown of the gunman who massacred worshippers at a Texas church are looking into whether they mishandled a sexual assault investigation of him four years ago
5:48PM ( 32 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
California bans use of some farming pesticides near schools
California regulators have announced a new rule that bans farmers from using certain pesticides near schools and day care centers
5:07PM ( 1 hour ago )
Menendez jury finishes 1st full day with no verdict
A question by one of the jurors in the bribery trial of Sen. Bob Menendez and a wealthy friend has some observers scratching their heads
5:07PM ( 1 hour ago )
Man admits stealing wedding ring from dead stabbing victim
A homeless man has pleaded guilty to stealing from a victim of May's stabbing spree aboard a Portland light-rail train
4:57PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Book: Hackers pursued Democrats into last days of election
A newly published book says hackers hounded the Democratic Party into the final days of the 2016 election and broke into a server carrying critical voter data
2:51PM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Military won't disclose gunman's mental history
The Air Force says federal privacy laws prohibit it from commenting on a news report that the gunman who attacked worshippers at a Texas church had escaped from a mental health facility in 2012 when he was an airman
2:44PM ( 3 hours ago )
Ousted Catalan leader challenges EU to speak out on crisis
Catalonia's ousted leader has vowed to prolong the fight for independence from Spain and urged the European Union to speak out over the jailing of Catalan officials in a rebellion case
2:26PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Online National News
What's on the ballot? Your guide to Tuesday's US elections
What's on the ballot? Your guide to Tuesday's US elections
11:11AM ( 7 hours ago )
Florida State becomes 3rd university to suspend Greek life
Florida State becomes at least the third university this year to suspend Greek life because of alcohol-related tragedies
11:02AM ( 7 hours ago )
Voters in New Jersey and Virginia to pick new governors
Voters in Virginia, New Jersey picking new governors in contests that could be an early referendum on President Donald Trump
10:38AM ( 7 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Trump abruptly talking negotiations, not threats in Korea
President Donald Trump is using his visit to South Korea to push North Korea to come to the negotiating table
3:07PM ( 3 hours ago )
Schiff to AP: Trump, Russia threaten democracy
The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee says "democracy is under threat" from Russia, but also President Donald Trump
11:29AM ( 6 hours ago )
10 Things to Know for Today
Among 10 Things to Know: In Seoul, Trump calls for North Korea to 'make a deal'; Air Force admits fault in reporting Texas church shooter's past crimes; Governor races in New Jersey and Virginia seen as bellwether for Democrats
11:08AM ( 7 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Losses for banks and smaller companies take US stocks lower
US stocks take modest losses as banks and smaller, domestically-focused companies stumble
4:41PM ( 1 hour ago )
Yellen says public trust in Fed ethics is critical
Fed Chair Janet Yellen says ethical standards critically important for central bank
4:29PM ( 1 hour ago )
NY Times calls Weinstein lawyer conduct inexcusable
The New York Times says it was inexcusable that lawyer David Boies' firm was working to suppress its investigation into harassment charges against Harvey Weinstein when it was also representing the newspaper in other cases
4:24PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
Ex Pilot execs' attorneys argue against guilt by association
Attorneys for two former executives at the truck stop chain controlled by the family of Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam say their clients shouldn't be found guilty by association.
1:46PM ( 4 hours ago )
Croatian businessman arrested in London over huge bankruptcy
London police say a prominent Croatian businessman has been arrested on a warrant issued by Croatian authorities
1:08PM ( 5 hours ago )
Stocks lower as travel companies, banks take losses
US stocks are falling as travel companies, retailers and banks take losses.
12:06PM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Texas massacre is seized on by both sides in gun debate
The Texas church massacre seems to fit whatever opinion one has about guns
3:59PM ( 2 hours ago )
Latest: Gunman had made death threats on military superiors
A 2012 police report says that the Texas church gunman had made death threats against his military superiors and had been caught trying to sneak firearms onto an Air Force base in New Mexico where he had been stationed
3:06PM ( 3 hours ago )
Latest: Gunman previously committed to mental health center
The gunman who attacked worshippers at a Texas church, killing 26, was apprehended by police in 2012 after escaping a mental health facility in New Mexico
2:29PM ( 3 hours ago )
Gunman checked each aisle, shot babies at point-blank range
Survivors say church gunman checked each aisle for more victims, shot babies at point-blank range
2:12PM ( 4 hours ago )
Trump says tougher gun laws not answer after Texas shooting
President Donald Trump says if there were tougher gun laws, they might have made Sunday's mass shooting at a Texas church even more deadly
1:13PM ( 5 hours ago )