Texas gunman not welcome at church before shooting; He ‘was not a good person to be around,’ says pastor
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — The gunman is dead, but the number of red flags found in his past keeps growing.
We now know Devin Patrick Kelley escaped from a mental health facility after sneaking guns onto an Air Force base and threatening commanders. But it wasn’t enough to prevent him from buying four guns afterward.
We also know he beat a former wife, abused his former stepson, posted about his rifle and his affinity for mass shootings, and recently disturbed his neighbor for several mornings in a row with rapid-fire gunshots from his property.
None of those facts will bring back the 25 people he killed, plus an unborn child. But survivors from Sunday’s Texas church massacre want to make sure this never happens again.
‘A guy that just seemed miserable’
Days before Kelley carried out the largest mass shooting in Texas history, he was working as a security guard at Summit Vacation Resort in New Braunfels. One family who encountered him recalled very negative experiences.
Chuck Jackson said Kelley got short with him after he asked whether his two young children could use the swimming pool.
“He was not normal. He was very weird,” Chuck Jackson told WDIV. Jackson said Kelley appeared to be “a guy that just seemed miserable in life.”
“He seemed angry. He seemed annoyed by us, and he seemed like he wanted to exert some authority,” Jackson’s sister Elizabeth Nitz told WDIV.
Jackson and Nitz said their relatives at the resort all commented how creepy Kelley seemed.
‘How do I run him away from my church?’
Kelley had numerous ties to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, which he shot up from both the inside and outside.
He had an ongoing dispute with his in-laws from his current marriage, who attended the church. Kelley’s grandmother-in-law was among those killed. And Kelley had a history of texting threats to his mother-in-law, who was not inside the church at the time.
Kelley himself had attended the church in the past, but was not welcomed there, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said. The sheriff said church Pastor Frank Pomeroy saw Kelley at church events and described him as “not a good person to be around.”
“He did not think that he was a good person and did not want him around his church,” Tackitt said of the pastor. “But he said, ‘How do I run him away from my church?'”
Kelley had a troubled past and was prone to domestic violence and animal cruelty, according to public records and those who knew him.
During his time in the Air Force, Kelley was involved in “multiple occasions of domestic abuse” against his ex-wife and stepson, said Don Christensen, a retired Air Force colonel.
Kelley was placed into pretrial confinement at a civilian facility, Peak Behavioral Health Systems, in New Mexico to wait for his court martial in 2012 but he managed to escape days later, according to documents from the El Paso Police Department obtained by KVIA and two Air Force officials.
When officers were called to find Kelley, they were warned that he was a danger to himself and others and that he had sneaked firearms onto Holloman Air Force Base. He had reportedly threatened his commanders, the documents said.
He was given a “bad conduct” discharge after he pleaded guilty to assault charges, admitting he hit his then-wife and stepson, officials said.
After his release in 2014, he landed in El Paso County, Colorado, where he was arrested on an animal cruelty charge. A neighbor told police he saw Kelley punching a dog, grabbing it by the neck and then dragging the animal. Kelley denied the account and was issued a summons but didn’t spend any time in jail.
Kelley’s social media suggested a fascination with mass shootings, a law enforcement official said.
Families remember the victims
The local medical examiner has not identified all the slain victims, but families and close friends are sharing their stories.
Husband and wife Robert and Karen Marshall had recently moved to Texas from Pennsylvania and were visiting the church for the first time when the shooting took place.
Robert Scott Marshall was a veteran, and Karen was also in the service. She was planning on retiring, her husband’s father, Robert Marshall, told KDKA.
Church member Judy Green visited a memorial for all the victims. Some of her family members were among those killed, including 14-year-old Annabelle Pomeroy — the daughter of the church’s pastor.
“I don’t have words for my loss for her, loss for everyone,” Green told KSAT.
So she brought roses to honor the teen.
“I know Annabelle loved roses in rose color and purple.”
As he prepared Wednesday to meet the families of those killed, Pence said: “Three days ago, evil descended on this small town, and on this small church.”d
He added: “This evil must come to an end in our land.”
Pence later attended a vigil at a nearby high school for victims and survivors. The vice-president said he and his wife, Karen, were humbled to “be with the precious families of the fallen and injured” from First Baptist.
“Words fail when saints and heroes fall,” Pence said.
He added: “Tonight, I know the hearts and prayers of every American are right here.”
Church services will continue
Despite losing half its congregation in the shooting, which likely damaged the church beyond repair, First Baptist Church will host a service this Sunday at a community center next door.
Its members, often clad in T-shirts and jeans, have long been a stalwart of the community — helping feed the needy and clean up neighbors’ property after storms.
“They don’t have a lot of money, but they are always willing to give,” said Mike Clements, who pastors a nearby church.
Now, pastors from neighboring communities are teaming up to help organize First Baptist’s upcoming service.