Preparedness & Recovery

Sutherland Springs Church Massacre Wasn't Random, Gov. Greg Abbott Suggests

As the gunman left the church, a town resident grabbed his own rifle and confronted him. The gunman dropped his gun and fled in his vehicle, and the resident pursued him.

by Eline de Bruijn, Claire Z. Cardona and Jennifer Emily, The Dallas Morning News / November 6, 2017
A law enforcement official walks past the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. AP/Eric Gay

The gunman behind the worst shooting in Texas history may have a connection to the Baptist church where he left at least 26 people dead, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott suggested Monday.

Abbott told ABC's "Good Morning America" details about any possible link will become public "in a few days." He said he didn't want to go further, saying "law enforcement is looking very aggressively into this."

"I don't think this was just a random act of violence," Abbott told anchor George Stephanopoulos. The governor didn't go into further detail, saying that "it's very important that law enforcement have the ability ... to tie the loose ends of this investigation up."

Devin Kelley, 26, began shooting from outside Sutherland Springs' First Baptist Church before he entered the building to continue gunning down the congregation at the 11 a.m. service. His in-laws were members of the church but were not present Sunday, CNN reported.

Kelley had been spotted about 11:20 a.m. at a gas station on the other side of U.S. Highway 87 before he drove up to the church about 35 miles from San Antonio.

Dressed in a ballistic vest and other tactical gear, Kelley was armed with a Ruger assault-style rifle, authorities said. His attack is Texas' worst mass shooting since 23 people were murdered and 20 more were wounded at a Killeen Luby's in 1991.

Authorities have not offered any explanation for what led to Sunday's rampage.

Abbott called Kelley, "a very deranged individual."

As the gunman left the church, a town resident grabbed his own rifle and confronted him, Department of Public Safety Regional Director Freeman Martin said. The gunman dropped his gun and fled in his vehicle, and the resident pursued him.

Kelley was found dead in his vehicle, which had crashed near the Wilson and Guadalupe county lines. It's unclear whether he killed himself or was mortally wounded by the armed resident, Martin said. The resident was not wounded.

Twenty-three of the victims died inside the church, two more were found dead outside and another died at a hospital, Martin said. About 20 people were taken to area hospitals -- some of them with severe wounds.

Some people escaped the church without injuries, though it's unclear how many. Neighbors say about 50 people usually attend services there.

The victims, who range in age from 5 to 72, have not been publicly identified. Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said authorities were working late Sunday to identify victims and begin notifying their families.

The church's pastor, Frank Pomeroy, told ABC News that his 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among the dead. He had not attended the service Sunday because he was in Oklahoma.

Although authorities have not publicly confirmed Kelley was the gunman, he has been widely identified by sources, including officials who spoke to The Associated Press.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed Kelley began serving in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in 2010.

Kelley served 12 months' confinement after a 2012 court-martial for allegedly assaulting his spouse and child, Stefanek said. He ultimately received a bad conduct discharge and reduction in rank.

Stefanek said Kelley served in Logistics Readiness at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico from 2010 until his discharge in 2014. His job was responsible for moving passengers, cargo and personal property in military transportation.

Defense Department records indicate he left the military in May 2014.

The Texas Department of Public Safety issued Kelley a private security license this year.

"The investigation is ongoing. We are unable to confirm any additional information about the shooting suspect at this time," DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said in an email.

Abbott told CNN that for investigators, there are "more knows than unknowns" as they continue looking into shooting.

Abbott said that Kelley applied for a gun license in the state of Texas and was denied.

"By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun, so how did this happen?" Aboott said.

A federal official said Kelley didn't appear to be linked to an organized terrorist group. The official said investigators are looking at social media posts Kelley may have made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.

Local records of an August traffic ticket issued in New Braunfels for an expired registration and not having auto insurance give a birthdate that would make him 26 years old.

A person with Kelley's name and date of birth registered in 2014 to vote in Colorado, with an address listed in Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The registration is now inactive.

Authorities were at a home Sunday night in New Braunfels that has been identified as Kelley's.

People who live near the home north of San Antonio said they had heard intense gunfire from its vicinity in recent days.

State troopers and a Comal County Sheriff's Office vehicle on Sunday evening blocked the gate that opens up to the large family property in a rural part of the city.

Several neighbors said that in recent weeks someone at the residence had been leaving expensive items, including couches, recliners and bicycles at the curb.

Mark Morovitz, 41, lives across the road from the Kelley residence and used to do work for Micky Kelley, Devin Kelley's father, until the two had a falling out two years ago. He said he had met Devin Kelley but didn't know him well.

He said his neighbors kept mostly to themselves but he and his family often heard gunfire -- including what they though were shotguns and rapid-fire rifles -- echoing from the property at night.

"That wouldn't have ever struck me as suspicious," Morovitz said. "Until now."

Gov. Greg Abbott said the tragedy is "worsened" by the fact that it occurred in a church.

"As a state we are dealing with the largest mass shooting in our states' history," he said. "There are so many families that have lost family members, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters."

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district includes the rural community of about 700 people, called the shooting "a horrific tragedy."

He said the town is "one of those unique communities where everyone knows everyone else and supports each other." He recalled fundraisers at the local fire department "where basically everyone in the entire area would come out to support those volunteers.

"The people of Sutherland Springs are as fine an example of Texans and Americans as you will find anywhere in the country," Cuellar said.

President Donald Trump called the deadly shooting an "act of evil."

Trump said he was monitoring the tragedy from Japan during his trip to five Asian countries.

"Our hearts are broken," he said. But he vowed Americans will pull together to help those who are suffering.

The president said the mass shooting "isn't a guns situation." He called it a "mental health problem at the highest level."

There have been no reports so far about details of Kelley's mental health. Although Abbott told CNN that mental health "is a very profound issue that our country must begin to address more profoundly."

Staff writers David McSwane, Todd Gillman, Julieta Chiquillo ,Terri Langford, Jennifer Emily and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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