The Texas church shooter who killed dozens of people on Sunday once escaped from a behavioral health facility and made death threats to military officials, adding to a growing list of questions about why he was able to purchase a gun.
Devin Kelley, 26, killed 26 people and wounded 20 more when he stormed into First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs with a semi-automatic Ruger AR-556, emptying 15 magazines that held upward of 30 rounds each, investigators said Tuesday.
Authorities have yet to determine a motive behind the massacre, but said they knew Kelley had been fighting with his current wife’s family.
“He had expressed anger toward his mother-in-law,” Freeman Martin, the regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said on Monday. His mother-in-law sometimes attended the Sutherland Springs church, and one of the people he killed was his wife’s grandmother.
Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 for assaulting his wife and stepson while serving at Holloman Air Force base in New Mexico. He also pointed a loaded gun at his then-wife, officials said. He was sentenced that November to 12 months’ confinement and given the duty title of “prisoner,” according to the New York Times.
Five months before his sentencing, Kelley escaped from Peak Behavioral Health Services in the state, where he had been placed for a “mental disorder,” according to an El Paso police report first obtained by Click 2 Houston.
During the June 2012 incident, a ″[witness] advised officers that [Kelley] suffered from mental disorders and had plans to run from [the facility],” the report says. He had been labeled a “danger to himself” and had “already been caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force base,” the report continues. It also says Kelley made death threats to military officials.
Kelley was found at a bus terminal, where he was released into the custody of Sunland Park Police. The Sunland Park police told local station WFAA that they did not have an arrest report or booking photo for Kelly at the time of his apprehension.
(Research has shown that people who live with mental health issues are more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than to commit one.)
The new revelation adds to the warning signs Kelley displayed before purchasing a firearm to carry out his deadly assault. Under the Lautenberg amendment, individuals who are convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor are prohibited from owning or buying guns. But it appears the Air Force never entered Kelley’s domestic violence offense into the federal database that gun sellers use to check the criminal history of potential buyers.
Academy Sports + Outdoors confirmed to HuffPost that Kelley purchased two firearms from the store after being approved by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The gunman was found dead after Sunday’s attack as he tried to flee in his car. An investigation into the shooting is ongoing.