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Air Force repeatedly failed to notify FBI about gunman before Sutherland Springs church massacre

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 12/8/2018 Jessica Schladebeck
a person posing for the camera © Texas Department of Public Safet / TNS

The Air Force failed on several occasions to provide authorities with information that could have prevented ex-airman Devin Kelley from purchasing the firearms he used to gun down more than two dozen people at a rural Texas church, according to a new government report.

The 26-year-old gunman burst into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, 2017 and opened fire with a legally purchased AR-15-style assault rifle. It was the deadliest mass shooting at a church in modern American history, with 25 people murdered as well as an unborn child. Armed citizens fired at the shooter as he fled the scene, but he was later found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In wake of the tragedy, the Air Force confirmed Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 and sentenced to one-year confinement for assaulting his wife and stepson. He spent a total of five years in the air force, based mostly in New Mexico, before his rank was reduced and he was handed a bad conduct discharge in 2014.

The Air Force faced fierce backlash for failing to report the domestic assault to the FBI as the conviction would have triggered a red flag in mandatory background checks required for Kelley to purchase a gun.

What's more, Air Force investigators who spoke with Kelley failed on four separate occasions to fingerprint him and then turn those prints over to the FBI, according to a Department of Defense Inspector General’s report released on Friday. On another two occasions, the Air Force failed twice to submit a final review of the case to the bureau.

“If Kelley’s fingerprints were submitted to the FBI, he would have been prohibited from purchasing a firearm from a licensed firearms dealer,” the report reads.

“Because his fingerprints were not submitted to the FBI CJIS Division, Kelley was able to purchase firearms, which he used to kill 26 people at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.”

Officials cited a lack of training as the primary reason for the oversight — for example, the case agent investigating Kelley’s domestic violence charges was not aware submitting the fingerprints had been a requirement.

Others could not give “a clear, supportable reason or explanation” for why they did not submit the prints to federal authorities.

The 131-page report also delves into Kelley’s troubled past, outlining his decade-long history of violence, harassing women and fascination for guns. His first, wife Tessa Kelley, claimed he choked her on several occasion and at one point held her head beneath the running shower saying, “I’m going to waterboard you.”

He was additionally charged with animal cruelty after witnesses saw him punch a dog several times and Kelley was also investigated for sexual assault in his hometown. Authorities in New Braunfels, Tx, declined to pursue the investigation, which the local sheriff has since dubbed “an error.”

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