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Air Force ordered to pay $230+ million for Sutherland Springs church shooting

A man walks past the front of the First Baptist Church where a gunman opened fire on a Sunday service and killed at least 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 6, 2017. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman/TNS)
February 08, 2022

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Air Force to pay more than $230 million to the survivors and families of the victims of the 2017 shooting attack at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 26 people were killed.

On Monday, Judge Xavier Rodriguez, of the U.S. District Court for Texas’ Western District, ordered the Air Force to pay restitution to those affected by the shooting, on the grounds that the service failed to flag the shooter’s court-martial conviction and “bad conduct” discharge from the military.

The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, had served in the Air Force until 2014 when he received a “bad conduct” discharge after being court-martialed in May 2014 for assaulting his wife and child. He was also sentenced to 12 months confinement and two reductions in rank to basic airman. In 2012, prior to his court-martial conviction, Kelley also reportedly escaped from a mental health facility in New Mexico, made death threats against his Air Force chain of command and was caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force Base.

Despite Kelley’s court-martial conviction, the Air Force did not report his criminal history to the FBI, which could have placed his name in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database and helped prevent him from obtaining the firearms he used to carry out the shooting.

In total, around 80 plaintiffs were included in the lawsuit against the Air Force. Judge Rodriguez enumerated the specific individual damages to each shooting victim and family member, over the course of the 185-page ruling.

The family of Joe Holcombe was one of the most heavily impacted by the shooting. In total, nine members of the Holcombe family, including the unborn child of Crystal Holcombe, were taken in the shooting.

John Porter Holcombe, whose parents, wife and stepchildren were killed, was awarded $4.6 million. His wife’s Crystal’s estate was awarded $7 million.

The highest single awards were for $7 million. They went to the estates of Crystal Holcombe and Tara McNulty.

The Nov. 5, 2017 shooting attack went on for more than seven minutes before Kelley was drawn out from the church by Stephen Willeford, an area resident and former NRA firearms instructor. Kelley and Willeford exchanged gunfire. According to the LA Times, Willeford struck Kelley twice — once in the leg and once in the torso. After being hit, Kelley fled in an SUV as Willeford gave chase in a truck driven by Johnnie Langendorff.

During the chase, the BBC reported Kelley called his father, admitted his actions and said he didn’t think he would survive his injuries. Kelley subsequently lost control of his vehicle. Willeford and Langendorff stopped and kept watch over Kelley’s vehicle until police arrived.

Police found Kelley dead at the scene with three gunshot wounds, including a self-inflicted wound to the head, CNN reported.