After crashing his car while getting chased out of town by armed citizens, Devin Kelley took his own life rather than face justice for the massacre of 26 people in a Texas church. Police released that information this morning as the community of Sutherland Springs attempts to make sense of the attack, which left another twenty people injured:
Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt told CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor that Kelley shot himself after he tried to get away from the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.
Kelley was being chased by two men in a truck after attacking the church during Sunday morning services.
Tackitt said Kelley “wrecked out” during the chase, and that’s when Tackitt believes Kelley shot himself. …
“The gentleman with the rifle came to my truck as the shooter took off, and he briefed me quickly on what had just happened and said that we had to get him,” Langendorff said. “We just take pursuit, and like I said we hit about 95 trying to catch this guy until he eventually lost control on his own and went off in the ditch. He just hurt so many people, and he just affected so many people’s lives. Why wouldn’t you want to take him down?”
This will put some nuance into the narrative that a good guy with a gun took down the bad guy, although there is still some truth to it. As long as Kelley’s motive remains unclear, we can’t know whether he planned to conduct a series of attacks. Whether or not the neighbor fired the shot that killed Kelley, he and the driver of the truck made sure that Kelley got stopped. That may be the only reason why Kelley turned his gun on himself.
The police offered more information on motive, though still not entirely certain. It involved a “domestic situation,” and the church may have been targeted because Kelley’s mother-in-law attended it:
TX official says "there was a domestic situation" within shooter's family; shooting not believed to be racially, religiously motivated. pic.twitter.com/tyn2X2HRWF
— ABC News (@ABC) November 6, 2017
Texas suspect sent "threatening texts" to mother-in-law who attended church, Texas DPS official says https://t.co/kBp0msQAb2
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 6, 2017
More importantly, police still don’t know how Kelley got the gun in the first place. While his bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force wouldn’t have disqualified him from purchasing firearms (as would a dishonorable discharge), a prior conviction for misdemeanor domestic assault should have prevented the sale:
Kelley, who served in the Air Force from 2010 until 2014, was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assault on his spouse and on their child. He received a bad conduct discharge, confinement for twelve months and a reduction of his military status.
Kelley purchased the Ruger model AR-556 rifle used in the shooting at a San Antonio sporting goods store in April 2016, according to a law enforcement official.
How did that get missed? Perhaps the background check system for firearms purchases needs better access between agencies, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told CNN’s New Day. Flake tells Alisyn Camerota that “we need better information sharing” and believes Congress will work on that issue in the wake of the massacre (via The Hill):
Sen. Jeff Flake: "We need better information sharing," Congress will "explore" how shooter was able to buy a gun https://t.co/0CnvaHUrHT
— New Day (@NewDay) November 6, 2017
“I do think that in this case I think what will come to light is we need better information sharing, if nothing else, in terms of criminal convictions or background check issue,” Flake said on CNN’s “New Day.”
“We don’t have a good system now. We don’t share information like we should between local and federal agencies. …
Asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota how Kelley, given his record, could buy a gun, Flake said, “I think we’ll be exploring that, I’m sure.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced this morning that Kelley’s issues didn’t go entirely unnoticed. The state rejected Kelley’s application for a carry permit, but that doesn’t impact the ability to purchase firearms by itself. Congress might want to look into why the state recognized the danger in Kelley, but the federal background check turned up empty.
Flake also said that some problems can’t be fixed with legislation:
“Sometimes there are things that would matter in terms of what Congress does, sometimes it’s more of a cultural issue or just a matter of discourse and how we treat each other.”
Treatment might be the main issue, Donald Trump said in his first remarks about the massacre:
Asked whether gun control is "the answer" after Texas shooting, Pres. Trump says, "This is a mental health problem at the highest level." pic.twitter.com/6KBIkWvTni
— ABC News (@ABC) November 6, 2017
That’s clearly one big issue in most of these shootings, and that raises all sorts of questions about prevention and identification. Did the Air Force not recognize a mental-health issue during Kelley’s court-martial? Did his bad-conduct discharge prevent him from seeking mental health care from the VA, or did Kelley ever seek any out? How far can we go to prevent mentally ill individuals from exercising their constitutional rights without a firm diagnosis? Of course, none of this would have come up had the federal record check flagged the earlier conviction and denied Kelley permission to purchase the rifle nineteen months ago.